From a Distance

It is a controlled fall from the ship. I have practiced it many times before, wings tightly folded on either side of my spine. As never before, I feel my own fierce strength, the glory of interconnecting mesh of muscles make it possible for wings and body to work together. I am tense. I must wait. There is a right time for wings to open, and I will sense that time as well as being able to read it on my wrist. A moment too soon and…

My ancestors had a tale of a boy called Icarus, who made himself wings of wax and flew too near the sun; hard to imagine not having wings, having to make them. What did he fasten them with, I wonder. Straps of leather? Straps of cloth? I have read of such substances, just as I have read of Icarus. The inevitable happened, of course. In the end he flew too close to Sol, the category 2 yellow dwarf now scorching my back as I fall – so very small, after our own, and so very hot. And why should this be a surprise? I have read a mountain of textbooks in preparation for this overflight of my home planet, seen pictures, viewed endless animations. I knew what it would be like. And yet I knew nothing.

What could that story have meant, really? Was it merely a tale of a foolish boy, designed to amuse an audience with a rudimentary sense of humour? Or was it more? Terra stories are known for a quality of symbolism so it might be that this one has a deeper meaning. A caution against arrogance, perhaps, and over-reaching.

The black chronometer on my wrist is set to Terra time. I must fall like this for six point five of their minutes. It feels like a lifetime.

I cannot believe I am finally here. I am so fortunate, to have been selected for this reconnaissance mission to my ancestral planet. My Terran genetic heritage would have helped, of course, though in training they warned me that I would need to set aside any false sentimentality about ‘the old country’.

‘Assessor Aiden, bear in mind that this is the planet that blasted your genetic antecedents out into cold space, in suspended animation and in a relatively primitive craft, on a mission to colonise Mars. Mars, of all planets – that hell hole! It was suicidal: those on the ground must have known it and those in the spaceship, as they stepped into their cryo-chambers and pressed the ‘freeze’ button, must at least have suspected it. It was mere political one-upmanship, vanity, showing off.

‘If our ancestors had not rescued your ancestors, studied them, bred from them and then, when it was proven safe to do so, interbred with them, there would be no Assessor Aidan. How many second-rate and failing races have we conserved in this fashion over the millennia? We are a long way towards gathering into a single race all that is best in the universe, whilst eliminating all that is worst. What an uncontrolled mess the universe be by now, without our Programme…’

Falling to earth. Like Icarus, I find myself thinking.

icaru-2

A sleek silver spaceship is in orbit around the planet known as Terra, a smallish satellite of star Sol. Ship’s Captain B’etal and First Officer Mata are able to see everything Assessor Aidan is seeing, via his implant. In the ship’s control room they witness again what they have both witnessed so many times before – and what a succession of other Captains and First Officers have been forced to witness before that. They watch as Aidan glides over that drought-ridden continent known as Africa. Village after village of scattered dead bodies, starvation and thirst. Dead cattle. Dead everything. Men with guns in battered trucks, almost as starved and thirsty as the villagers they patrol.

With Aidan they sweep over what were once known as the Americas – two great lumps of land strung together by a delicate land-bridge. They see a stone statue with a stone crown, holding aloft a stone flame; very little else but scorched earth. Everything disintegrated. Shadows of bodies etched into half-demolished walls. Their instruments record increased blood pressure, stress levels through the roof.

‘Contain any emotional response, Assessor. Remember your training…’

How fortunate that Aidan does not know he is the five-hundred-and-first Assessor to have performed this sweep. Had he been aware that his vote and his alone will be the one to decide the fate of this cesspit of a failed planet, had he known that this very day he will effectively be Judge, Jury and Executioner for many millions of years of history…

They are never told, so that none of them has to shoulder the burden of guilt. All are equally guilty, or equally innocent depending how you choose to look at it. An Assessor performs but a single mission before moving on to other work. He might be the first, he might be the last, or any intermediate one of the five-hundred-and-one. Or there may be more than five hundred and one. Or there might be just one. Not knowing, he is able to maintain the necessary professional detachment.

Except that this particular Assessor does not seem to be doing so. His blood-pressure is still rising.

Through Assessor Aidan’s eyes Captain B’etal and First Officer Mata are now viewing what was once known as Europa, and which the textbooks describe as a collection of individual nations, each with its own language and culture. They see War and, as the Assessor glides over a muddy, pockmarked battlefield on the eastern edge of that territory, they see a group of men in battered uniforms, gazing skyward, pointing, tracking the strange blue creature with their eyes. They exclaiming over its great muscular wings, its vast, exotic wing-span. And positioning what looks like an ancient piece of military equipment.

‘Abort. Pull him out of there.’

‘Aborting. Repeat, aborting. Maintain level flight whilst we position ourselves to tractor you out. Assessor Aidan, do you read us?’

From the ground arises a thud, a sudden explosion, an ominous hissing sound, a streak of fire.

‘What is that?’

Their displays are doing a wild dance, skimming through diagrams of Terran weapons at lightning speed.

‘Rocket-launcher.’

‘He’s hit. He’s falling. One wing…’

‘Assessor Aidan, give your report.

No reply.

‘Assessor Aidan, your decision, please, before you die. There is still time. Press Red or Green on your tunic panel.’

Still no answer.

‘Assessor Aidan, listen to me now. You have been hit. Give your report. Green for Save, Red for Cleanse.’

Green or Red, Assessor? It is your duty to report.

There is no sound in space as the half-human, blue-winged creature crashes to the ground. No sound as it lies on the ground with broken wings and neck. The ragged soldiers, though still a long way off, are running in its general direction.

icarus-blue

Captain B’etal and First Officer Mata exchange glances and know that they are thinking approximately the same few things.

That however accidental the death of Assessor Aidan may have been, the Captain and First Officer are likely to be held in some way responsible for it.

That there will be endless enquiries and inquests.

That there will be a forfeiture of bonuses and/or a docking of pay.

That this fiasco is bound to be noted on their service records.

And then there is the delay in completing this important mission. This particular planet is urgently required for Re-Seeding. The formalities have had to be observed, of course, due diligence carried out, but the Programme must go on. A Green verdict was never really on the cards. Terra has been degenerating year on year; noticeably worsening with each new sweep. No hope for the blighted lump of rock. Cleanse and Re-Seed is by far the better option: a new Eden.

Captain B’etal continues to hold First Officer Mata’s eye as, in slow-motion, he reaches towards the red button on his own console. He is asking her one final question, and silently, since all their conversations are recorded. Scarcely a nod and then she leans forward to place her hand over his. Together, they press the Red button.

A Dutchman, a Quiche and One White Eyebrow

Ex was not an easy chap to get along with, which was why, after twenty-two years or so, I had to leave him. I loved him then and suppose I still do – in an eccentric-older-brother sort of way – although now he is getting on in years and lives with another lady (search: My Replacement). He has developed one bristly white eyebrow at which, on the increasingly rare occasions that I see him, I cannot help staring. It reminds me of Thunderbird puppets.

He is still handsome. He kept the albums but I can still recall a photo of him, in his thirties, sitting against a Yorkshire farm gate, tanned, cotton shirt unbuttoned, reading a map. We were on holiday. He had no idea at all that he was handsome, and that was one reason that I loved him. Downside: he had no real idea what I looked like. He could paint a steam engine down to the last gleaming, mirror-surfaced detail – correct livery for the year, right number of bands on the funnel and everything (that’s so important to a steam buff). He could capture stark winter trees, stormy skies and sunny meadows but he didn’t do faces – couldn’t draw me, or human figures in general.

Now, where was I going with this? Forgive me, it’s nearly midnight and I’m propped up in bed, be-shawled and scribbling, blanketed in cats and trying to convince myself the headache is getting better. Oh yes, the Dutchman and his infernal Quiche.

Wim and his partner, another Dutch gentleman whose name I never knew – red-haired, he was – came to our village and opened a delicatessen in the High Street in what had been – what had it been? – the sort of antique shop that hardly ever has any customers and only opens on Leap Year Day. It was a good delicatessen, if rather exotic for our remote English village at that time.

Ex worked from home and was in charge of the cooking – well, in charge of everything – and was relentless in his adherence to custom and routine. Every day (every single day) we had boiled potatoes, spring greens and a Third Item. He adapted to my becoming a vegetarian, owing to having moved next door to a field of fluffy lambs, by substituting a meaty Third Item with a small vegetarian quiche, in my case or, as he preferred to call it, Flan. The only place you could get this Quiche, aka Flan, was the delicatessen run by Wim and his friend.

Now, Ex was surprisingly good with gay men, mostly, I suspect, because they did not include women. And he did, surprisingly again – for a person who ran like a clockwork toy, Ex was constantly surprising me – succeed in pronouncing Wim as ‘Vim’, which was how Wim pronounced it, and making no mention of the sink scouring powder of the same name. However, he would not say Quiche and Wim/Vim would not say Flan.

I wasn’t allowed to shop, but for some reason I always seemed to have to accompany Ex on food shopping expeditions, trailing submissively in his wake like one of those indoctrinated cult members; I always felt I should be wearing dusty sandals, a white robe made from a sheet, and my hair dishevelled around my shoulders. So whenever we went to the deli to buy my vegetarian Quiche aka Flan, the conversation would go something like this:

Wim/Vim (with a faint, continental curl of the lip):  What can I get you today, sir?

Ex:  One of your small vegetarian Flans, please.

Wim/Vim:  Quiche!

Ex:  Yes, Flan.

Wim/Vim:  Quiche!!

Ex: As I said, Flan.

Had Wim/Vim been married to Ex for twenty-two years he would have realised that there was no point at all in disputing with him about anything at all, let alone Quiche. At two or three in the morning, after many repetitious hours of disputation, you would have turned into a gibbering, screeching wreck. Ex, on the other hand, would be loftily calm and if anything even more convinced of his absolute correctness in this and all things. Wim/Vim could have ‘sobbed and cursed and kicked the stairs’ till the cows came home but he would never have got Ex to concede that a Flan could be a Quiche.

The deli closed long ago. Poor little Wim/Vim – I do hope that he and his gingery consort are now enjoying a prosperous and well-deserved retirement amid the windmills and tulip fields and have managed to forget all about Quiche.

Or Flan.

The Kama Sutra Mystery

My Uncle and Aunt invited me down to Devon when I was sixteen. I was to stay for a week. To this day I’m not sure why they suddenly took it into their heads to invite me. Childless themselves, maybe they were assessing me for an inheritance. If only that had worked out. Maybe my parents had secretly begged for me to be taken off their hands.

I doubt if my Uncle and Aunt were enchanted by me either – a sullen, awkward lump of a teenager with nothing to say, who insisted on going to church on her own on Sunday and spent most of the time holed up in the spare room of their narrow Victorian mid-terrace hammering away on a black Imperial typewriter she had found there. What was I writing, I wonder? Something terribly creative but not terribly good, probably.

My Uncle was blind – well, as good as. He had those creepy gobstopper glasses. Green glass, perfectly round. At that point he was still keeping up his bicycle round as a door-to-door collector of insurance premiums. He had an inner map of all the streets in Exeter, and navigated using this. When I visited years later, with my new husband, we managed to get ourselves hopelessly lost in some godforsaken suburb of the city. I had come down on the train when I visited before, so I had no idea how to drive there. We telephoned Auntie for help but Uncle answered and proceeded to talk my then-husband through the entire route to their house in the town centre from memory; which still doesn’t explain how he managed to stay on his bicycle when he couldn’t see more than an inch in front of him.

Uncle was bold, quite fearless and seemingly unaware of danger. Walking with him on the quayside at Brixham one afternoon, my Aunt and I were in a constant state of fear, ready to retrieve him as he strode towards fallen ropes, anchors and bollards as if they couldn’t possibly exist, and somehow managed to avoid them all. Later, though, he wasn’t so lucky. Someone had left open a pavement hatch leading to a coal-cellar, and down he tumbled.

On the night of the moon landing he stayed up all night in an armchair, leaning forwards, his nose pressed almost against the glass of their tiny black-and-white TV. ‘Your Uncle will be in a very bad mood by morning,’ my Aunt warned me. ‘Best we stay out of his way.’

They were an odd couple to look at – she a gawky, big-hipped, toothy six footer – far taller than other women of her generation – he a small, round man with a West Country accent thicker than clotted cream. They had met at night school somehow – quite how I don’t know, given the geographical separation between Devon and Kent – and married when my Aunt was over thirty and well-settled into the old-maidhood for which she seemed to have been designed.

Instead, Uncle whisked her off to Devon to spend many years running round after her mother-in-law, who despised this unexpected ‘foreign’ giantess of a daughter-in-law and quickly developed dementia. Years later, Uncle also got dementia, so Auntie was destined for the double whammy. But in between these two episodes of horror there would be a good few decades of peaceful companionship. My Aunt was a patient woman and content with very little – visits to the allotment; a part-time job in the Post Office; a never-to-be-realised fantasy of one day retiring to Herne Bay, where she would open a genteel cake shop on the sea front, and a series of semi-adopted neighbourhood cats, all known as David.

It may have been that night or another when I discovered paperback copies of The Kama Sutra and The Perfumed Garden in the bookcase, in my attic room. Full colour illustrations  of exotic, glassy-eyed men and ladies doing strange things to one another with oddly abstracted expressions. They were concealed by a row of dull Fabian Society pamphlets and thick layer of dust.

I read them, of course, then hid them again. It added a certain spice to the week and I learned quite a bit, though nothing that was to come in very useful, really. Whatever Cosmopolitan said, there never seemed to be a lot of call for all those contorted and excruciating positions… ah, well. I did memorise a number of words that have come into their own recently in Scrabble, so they weren’t wasted.

But the mystery remains: which of them had been reading The Kama Sutra and The Perfumed Garden, given that Uncle was blind and Aunt so very school-girlish and corseted?

And why, exactly?

In my monogrammed gold pyjamas…

I don’t normally write about politics – well, maybe a wee nudge in passing – mainly because, after all, who am I?

Closely followed by and who cares what I think?

Supplemented by and in any case, it’s boring. Well, not to me, but then I’m odd. But this post seems to want to be written, and nothing else is queuing up to be written instead of it, so here goes nothing.

I feel I’ve learned quite a few things recently, by observing the rise and rise of Mr Trump in America, and Brexit gradually unfolding in Britain: the value of humility, for instance, and a willingness to modify your opinions where necessary.

When That Woman in the Horrid Trouser Suit, that Elderly Plumber with the Rod Stuart Hairdo and possibly Someone Else Annoying went all the way to the Supreme Court to challenge our Government’s right to trigger Article 50 (signalling our intention to leave the European Union) I was furious. I voted to leave. We voted to leave. I lived in a democracy. I had been given – wisely or not – a vote in a democratic referendum. So I voted. And I won. We won, and now this woman

I hated her. Every time she appeared on my television set yet again, I hated her. However, I would not have abused her on social media, as some did. Neither would I have written a newspaper headline describing the Lord Chief Justice and two of his colleagues, who decided in Ms Miller’s favour, as Enemies of the People. That’s because I’m old fashioned. I believe in courtesy, kindness and moderation. I believe in good sportsmanship – the idea that you should be modest in victory and generous in defeat. I believe that blind fury/incoherent ranting mean you have already lost the argument.

And now, watching what is happening in America, it seems to me that I was wrong even to have thought ungenerous thoughts about Ms Miller and her irritating trouser suit, or those pompous old farts of Judges in their wigs and gowns. I see the various Courts in America struggling to curb the rise of an out-and-out autocrat. I see that they, and the people themselves, protesting in whatever way they can, are now all that stands between democracy and dictatorship, and that may well be the case for the next four or (surely not?) eight years. How could I have thought badly of our own judges for doing what they were appointed to do in helping to define our democracy?

Before this last year, I wondered how dictators ever came to power. How did Hitler, for example, ever get to be in charge of Germany? Couldn’t people have seen through him? How did all those ghastly African dictators get to be in power in the first place? I used to think maybe it was because in Africa people were less sophisticated than us, politically (I know – a prejudice left over from Imperial days) but that did not explain Germany. Now I have watched this process happening, potentially, in the last place I would ever have expected to see it. I see how easy it is to fool at least half of the people, half of the time. And that’s all you need. Half of the people, half of the time.

I have been thinking about the Peter Principle:

Anything that works will be used in progressively more challenging applications until it fails.

Or, more specifically:

In an organizational structure, assessing an employee’s potential for a promotion is often based on their performance in the current job. This eventually results in their being promoted to their highest level of competence, and potentially then to role in which they are not competent, referred to as their “level of incompetence”.

Maybe this is what has happened on a grand scale in America. Someone who was extremely good at one level of “running things” has got himself promoted to a much higher level of “running things” and he’s not exactly coping.

I dislike having to feel sorry for obnoxious people, but in spite of myself I am beginning to feel a little sorry for President Trump. Unwillingly, I try to imagine myself in his place: I am seventy-going-on-three and wandering around the palace of my dreams late at night in my monogrammed gold pyjamas, gleefully exploring its many rooms and corridors. My father’s house has many mansions… Maybe I open a desk drawer here, or peer behind a brocade curtain there. I look up at the portraits of past presidents. Here I am guys!

I wanted to win, and now I have won. At last, I’m in charge…

(My father, an electrician working for the Electricity Board, over the years refused several offers of promotion. He was popular, and a good organiser. He’d probably have made a good foreman, but he used to quote this little verse:

The working class can kiss my ****/ I’ve got the foreman’s job at last.

The extra money would have come in handy for a man with a wife with a wife and three large daughters to support, but he stuck to his socialist principles.)

…but oh, it’s not much fun in my palace of dreams: it’s hard work, it’s long hours and SO much more complicated than I imagined. People don’t just do what I tell them, like they ought to. People are criticizing me. Me!

And there’s NO ESCAPE. I can’t just tell them well, I won – but now I’d really rather go off and play golf a lot or get back to buying hotels. I can’t just turn to the nearest minion and say – here, take over this President thing for me, will you? It’s not nearly as exciting as campaigning.

I’m BORED now.

Now, I am BORED.

So bored!

toad

Serious Moonlight

No signal was given. As the Bridge of Mists began to form the music from both sides of the Great Chasm died down of its own accord. On the green side, pipers clutched their flutes to their chests in terror and in rapture, and the voices of green-clad choristers died in their throats. On the purple side, drummers ceased their drumming, raggedly, a beat here, a beat there. The player of the Great Viol, that beast of an instrument, dropped his electronic bow. The light was changing. As the moon rose, the bridge began to form simultaneously from either end, iridescent, sparkling, entirely without substance and yet, apparently, real.

On either side there were old folk who had witnessed this event at the second moon of every seventh year, many times before, and yet they stood open-mouthed with the rest; each Bridge seemed more magnificent, more portentous than the one it succeeded.

The structure formed slowly, the purple span and the green span creeping towards one another, coalescing out of the mist that always existed in the Chasm, obscuring that which lived beneath, the Great Dragon who kept the planet alive – guardian of crops, channel for the two suns, bringer of babes and source of all fecundity. But now it had become hungry, as had happened every seventh year, time out of mind. Now it needed them, their joint and willing sacrifice.

dragon-eye

Rogoth and Jessika had never met in the flesh. For the past seven years they had communicated via Sunlink, exchanging images, ideas and thoughts. They had carried mobile communicators round with them and charted their days for each other. They had even sung lullabies to each other, when one or the other couldn’t sleep. They had documented their days for each other, and had never felt alone or single. They knew each other intimately and yet, the chasm stood always between them, for Rogoth belonged to the purple side and Jessika to the green.

Such cross-Chasm friendships – business ventures, collaborations – love stories, even – were not uncommon. The Children of the Dragon were one race, or had been once. Long ago, it was said, the planet had not been divided, at least not along the entirety of its equator, and people had moved to and fro. In those days the greens and the purples were almost indistinguishable but as the aeons of isolation passed they began to diverge, physically, the purples accumulating more of the dragon’s features and markings and tending towards the purple side of its iridescence. Greens, like Jessika, tended to have fewer dragon markings and the rudimentary spinal scales were missing, but they glowed more strongly green.

Rogoth and Jessika fell in love, as the stars had always intended them to do. Over the years their love for each other had grown until it equalled and then transcended their love of life. And that was why, as the two spans of the bridge joined over the central and deepest part of the chasm, they were setting forth from either side.

As he walked Rogoth examined his feelings and finally allowed himself to acknowledge that he was afraid, not so much of death – because when it came it his death would be unimaginably swift – but of heights. Ridiculous, he thought, to fear falling when you were about to fall anyway, and had volunteered to fall.

The bridge was substantial enough for the moment. No chance of slipping through it, though it was made of nothing more than air and magic. And it was wide, curving gently inwards at the edges. No chance of slipping off. When he – when he and Jessika – did fall it would be because the bridge had dissolved beneath their feet.

Jessika wheeled her chair towards the centre. Rogoth, of course, knew of her disability, as he knew everything about her. It didn’t matter. All that mattered was that she would be able to reach out, touch him, look long (or at least for a long last moment) into those beautiful dragonish eyes of his. Everything about Rogoth was splendid, she thought, finding it harder to wheel herself now, as the bridge became steeper. Her dear Rogoth was …elegant… that was the word for it.

She had sometimes wondered what their children would have been like, had they been able to breed the way people did on other planets, without the intercession of the Great Dragon. Would they have inherited his eyes? Would they have been green or purple, or some intriguingly random swirl of the two? It was possible, of course, that Rogoth would not have wished to breed with her, in such alien circumstances. What could he ever have seen in such a plain, crippled little thing?

Jessika was afraid too, but there was no turning back. She had promised this – they had sworn it to each other, and she would not let him down now. He was getting closer. She could make out his tall figure, an elaborate ceremonial gown, similar to the one she wore, except his was encrusted with amethysts and hers with peridot. Not , as yet, his features.

At last they were face to face. He smiled down at her, and she smiled back and great joy overtook them. Dragon-Bridge began to make its own music, far different from anything the merely dragon-begotten could produce. The Chasm, the Bridge and the Great Dragon that lived beneath it were combining somehow, singing as one.

“Shall we dance, Jessika?” Rogoth asked, extending a courtly hand. He had rehearsed that line so long, wondering if it was too… much. His hand was long and slender, she noticed, and the palms a pale violet. There was a hint of the curved claw to the long, polished fingernails. She could have examined them for ever, she felt. Every detail of every part of him, for ever.

“I’m afraid I cannot…” she began, embarrassed, as much by her own thoughts as by the chair, but he was already reaching down and lifting her. She would never have to sit in that contraption again, she realised. A moment’s exultation! Reaching around his neck to steady herself, she felt the rudimentary triangles of dragon-spine beneath the skin. She looked into his eyes, which were purple with golden flecks, the iris more slit-like and elongated than her own.

If only we could have had more time, she thought, as they commenced their first and last dance together in the swirling mist. If only… as they locked eyes, and the music increased in beauty and intensity, and the Bridge became less and less bridge, more and more air, less causeway, more mist…

Until at last…

Lukewarm

“You are so capable,” I remember saying.

I remember exactly where I sat when I said it, that tatty armchair by the gas fire that had the middle bar missing. That was my seat. The other seat was your seat. A small black and white TV on the carpet – miles away, it seemed. It was around that time, twenty-one or twenty-two, when I began to suspect I needed glasses.

It was cold in that room because the ceilings were so high. What heat there was from the broken gas fire went straight up and lingered way above our heads, an invisible, ineffective fug. Our flat was on the third floor. It had once been servants’ quarters.

How soon it became winter that year. We married late in the August, a boiling hot day, so hot that my Nan, in her navy blue suit, almost fainted. But by the November winter had set in, dreich and damp.

I remember having no money to speak of but walking down to the shops for something to do; something to get me away from you, already. I stood and stared into shop windows at various desirable objects and imagined buying them. I went home and wrote a poem with one and a half good lines in it – ‘And my green ghost stands behind me/ Spending money’. ‘Poem in November,’ it was called. No idea what happened to it.

“You are so capable,” I said, in that cold armchair, on the day I suddenly found I simply couldn’t move for misery.

“You don’t let me cook, you don’t let me clean. You watch me all the time so that you will be able to put right what I am just about to do wrong. We go to the supermarket and you remove from our shopping trolley every single item I put into it, substituting your own choice. You make me feel useless.”

“You know, what you need,” you said “is a hobby, or a purpose in life. Some sort of challenge or crusade. Keep your mind active. Stop this sort of thing keep happening.”

“Tell me one thing I can do, that you can’t,” I said. “Anything at all that I can do even fractionally better than you.”

You thought for a while. I could see you were uncomfortable. The silence stretched on and on, like our future together.

“I’ve noticed you always answer letters promptly,” you said at last.

Lukewarm

Daily Dog

I was going to call this post ‘Groundhog Life’ but decided against. It’s a good title, though I say it myself, but who’s going to click on something that might make them miserable in these dire and depressing times? Maybe I should have gone the whole hog (hog!) and called it ‘Reasons to be Cheerful. But there weren’t any.

So, where did ‘Daily Dog’ come from?

A confession, ladies and gentlemen: I am now the possessor of a Daily Dog loo seat, and this in spite of the fact that I twelve cats and no dog. I have never actually had a dog – can’t remember ever taking a dog for a walk, even.

The old loo seat broke – who knew loo seats didn’t just go on forever? – and I had to replace it. I saw this Dog loo seat online and, despite there being other novelty loo seats available – plants, little fishes, bamboo designs etc – and a whole range of acceptably plain white loo seats, for some reason I ordered the Dog one. I couldn’t seem to stop myself.

It’s kind of an ironic Dog, in that here is this foolish lop-eared Jack Russell reading a newspaper called The Daily Dog on my toilet seat, in the midst a houseful of cats. I thought it might make my sister laugh when she next comes over from Canada (I can hear her now, coming down the stairs (‘Linda, am I right in thinking …?’).  And it’s liberating, I suppose, to have at last overcome my working class horror of bad taste.

And I thought it might make me smile when I was taking myself too seriously, and in fact it does although the novelty might wear off in the decades to come. It’s likely to last decades, this loo seat. Excellent quality, whatever its appearance – got the soft close lid and everything. Well, I suppose it could have revolved or played a tinny version of Für Elise. The cats are intrigued. They sit and watch as instead of the usual crashing and splintering the lid gently sinks and the newspaper-reading pooch heaves once again into view.

And ‘Groundhog Life’?

Every now and then I type into Google ‘What is the meaning of life?’ just in case the All Knowing One has come up with the answer since the last time I asked it. Invariably it hasn’t. However, it sometimes throws up interesting bits of random reading. This time I came across an online university philosophy course by a gentleman called James Fieser of UTM (University of Tennessee at Martin) the first chapter of which is entitled The Meaning of Life. It’s an overview of philosophy, very readably written, and I am gradually working my way through it. I thought it might be available in book form, in which case I would have bought it, but it only seems to be accessible online.

In this chapter Professor Fieser describes a test to determine how much of a grip the ‘What is the meaning of life?’ question has on you personally. This test was designed by German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche and is called The Eternal Return. It’s like a thought experiment. You imagine – doesn’t matter if you don’t believe – that the current universe is just one of an endless series of universes. One universe ends, the next one begins, identical in every detail. You will therefore have no choice but to re-live this same life again and again and again for all eternity. If Eternal Return feels like a nightmare to you, then you have issues with the meaning of life.

It certainly feels like a nightmare to me. Does it to you? It wouldn’t be so bad if you had the opportunity to change things in each successive life, but to carry on having to suffer the same horror, grief and pain, making the same mistakes and never being able to learn from them?

I do try nowadays not to dwell on such stuff. If I catch myself either moping about the past, obsessing about the future, fantasising about better pasts and better futures or away in la-la land generally, I gently return myself to the present moment. Unfortunately the present moment contains President Trump, old people queuing for thirteen hours in hospital corridors because the National Health Service is disintegrating, innocent children starving to death and getting killed, and then people taking umbrage and ringing up complaining because they have been forced to look into the eyes of a newly-dead child…

It contains February, my birthday month (naturally) and the worst month of the year in the UK. It’s ten in the morning and looking out of the window beyond my computer I see the sort of grey-brown foggy darkness you would normally expect around dusk. A cold rain is falling and there is a crust of sleet and snow over all. The birds gobble up anything I put out for them, hanging on through the icy cold so as to produce another springful of baby birds. Everything seems ravenous. Yesterday I found myself putting out an extra slice of bread for the Ratties. Yes, I am even feeding rats now.

So you seek that’s why I just had to have the Jack Russell loo seat!