‘Went fishing with Sam. Day wasted.’

When I came across this story it was attributed to James Boswell in his Life of Samuel Johnson, purporting to be something the great man himself had confided.

The story goes that Samuel Johnson’s father took him out for a day’s fishing, and this was the first and only time it happened. Samuel was so very happy that day, he wrote in his diary that he had had the Best Day Ever. Many years later he came across his late father’s diary and couldn’t resist looking up the entry for that day. His father had written:

‘Went fishing with Sam. Day wasted.’

This little story had an immediate effect on me. I found myself back there, in that dusty loft or study or whatever, inhabiting the body of the young Samuel Johnson, feeling his sadness.

I suppose you automatically relate these things to your own experiences. I was linking the Samuel Johnson story to a tiny conversation I had with my mother, maybe ten years ago. We didn’t really realise then that she had dementia: one of the first things to go in her case was empathy – oh yes, and tact – but then the two are intertwined. It seemed safe enough, at this great distance in time, to say that I always assumed my youngest sister had been her favourite. I expect I was hoping she would say ‘Oh no, my dear, we loved all three of you the same.’

‘Yes, she was’, she said, ‘and your middle sister was your Dad’s favourite, always’. Why did she have to add that always? Salt in the wound.

This sort of thing is not supposed to matter as you get older, but of course it does. It just seemed to me that the equation didn’t balance, it was one short. There needed to have been three parents – one to favour each of my sisters and one to love only me. It occurs to me now that this could be one of the ground rules for Brave New World – precisely as many parents in a family as there are children.

Fishing around the internet a bit more (oh dear, a pun) I discovered the same fishing story was said to have happened to virtually every father-and-son combination including some 19th Century political chap called Charles Frances Adams and his son Brook Adams. I also found short stories purported to have been entirely imagined by not-very-good amateur writers. I think it may be one of those urban myths that everybody ‘remembers’ or swears to be true, or ‘knows someone who knows someone who knew the person it happened to’.

I was trying to think of some others. There used to be one about a poodle accidentally cooked in a microwave oven, and one about a man with a bloodstained axe lying low in the back of the car whose mad visage suddenly rears up and appears in the rear view mirror. The classic is the one about the hitchhiker, picked up on some dusty highway and then mysteriously vanishing, often while the car is still moving.

I also found some modern day computer-based ones. There are a whole lot of translations computers are supposed to have made of sayings and book titles. For example:

Angry Raisins (Grapes of Wrath)
Blind & Insane (Out of Sight, Out of Mind)
The Vodka was Good, but the Meat was Rotten (The Spirit is Willing, but the Flesh is Weak)

I suppose the thing is a good story is a good story, and why let it go to waste? Embellish it, change the names, pass it on and take the whole credit for it, why not? I expect that’s how the human race has been functioning since ever it first began to talk.

O brave new world, that has such people in’t!

Terraforming – I thought it had been invented by Captain Kirk. There was this film, wasn’t there? And someone transforming some planet into some kind of Garden of Eden on steroids – playing God, in other words – bound to end in tears/flows of molten rock/sky turning purple with yellow streaks/massive explosions.

Unbeknown to all, you see, Spock was on the planet. He was kind of a baby in a space-capsule, lurking the undergrowth and the new planet accidentally got synched to his accelerated growth/ageing process. I’m not sure why it was accelerated, or how he came to be a baby in a space-capsule in the first place, but anyway, it was. And he was.

But it appears the idea of terraforming was around long before Star Trek. According to Wikipedia:

The concept of terraforming developed from both science fiction and actual science. The term was coined by Jack Williamson in a science-fiction story (Collision Orbit) published during 1942 in Astounding Science Fiction,[1] but the concept may pre-date this work.

If I was allowed to rebuild this planet from scratch, to suit myself, what would it be like?

it fits

 It Fits!! : Matt Friedman

I would prefer there to be almost no people in my Brave New World, but not absolutely no people. You need to be able to speak and listen every so often: that’s what keeps your brain alive. I learned that lesson from Mum, though she didn’t realise she was teaching it: partially and then completely deaf, as she got older she wouldn’t wear her hearing aids, even to make things easier for visitors; she would hide behind the curtains if anyone came to the door and would physically drag us away if we bumped into anybody we knew, or she had once known, in the street.

It’s a person’s choice to hide themselves away, of course, but there can be a high price to pay; a kind of Robinson Crusoe Syndrome. The brain gets scrambled without at least the minimum of conversation. Even the least sociable of us are designed or have evolved, mentally, for the interchange of ideas – we are at our best when firing off other people. It’s a bit like the internet, only with squidgy stuff rather than circuits.

That said, I’d be happy to live like the Giant Panda, shambling around in the forest and only getting together with others once a year for mating purposes and a bit of a chat. Or in my case just a bit of a chat. The only downside with pandas is apparently they have to poop forty times a day. Something to do with their diet.

I’d like to live in a wooden hut, with a veranda, and an old wooden rocking chair with a bit of a creak to it. Then when it rained I could sit in my rocking chair and rock, and look down into the forest, observing the raindrops dropping off those great, glossy leaves and a cool breeze causing the lianas to sway a little…

My Brave New World would be fitted with some sort of controls, within limits. So, if it had been raining for three weeks non-stop in your solitary rainforest and you could really do with a couple of days of pleasant sunlight streaming down through the canopy – there should be some sort of control panel – no doubt hidden in the ruins of some ancient Inca civilisation – where you could twiddle a few knobs or press a few buttons to arrange that. But one wouldn’t be permitted perpetual sunshine since this might interfere with the natural environment for all the other animals you were lucky enough to share your rainforest with.

It might be nice if the storm-clouds made music as they passed overhead – or maybe the planets themselves as they circled – something like the music of the spheres. That too would be turn-off-and-on-able. Silence should always be an option. Or maybe just birdsong – some ambient twittering.

What would your Brave New World be like?

tortoise

natural