Passing from winter to winter again

Remember those lovely genies who grant wishes? Well, you’re one and you’ve just been emancipated from your restrictive lamp. You can give your three wishes to whomever you want. Who do you give your three wishes to, and why?

Taken literally, this one’s a no-brainer. We probably all know friends or family members in dire need of a granted wish. So – a one-paragraph post coming up?

Let’s get the wishes out of the way. After all those years cramped and confined in that abominable brass contraption, here I am, breathing fresh air, expanding… That’s enough of a wish for me.

Wish number one: would go to my Canadian sister. Her husband, my brother-in-law, has just learned that he is seriously ill. He and my sister are in a bit of a spin at the moment. I would give the wish to her, so that she could magick him well again.

Wish number two: would go to my Kentish sister. Her daughter, my niece, has been struggling for many years with kidney failure and a rare complication that means another transplant might be impossible. She is thirty years old. I would give this wish to my sister, so that her daughter could have a normal life, without a roomful of dialysis fluid for company every night.

Wish number three: would go me – or my alter ego, her – the one who blogs a lot. She would wish her mother a respite – a window of sanity, however brief, at the end of a long life, free of the Voices, the confusion and the fear.

However, I have thought quite a lot about wishes and I wonder if, in the larger scheme of things, we ought to wish. I tend towards the belief that we, as souls, design our own lives before we enter them. The ‘older’ we are, as souls, the more carefully we select the experiences we need, to learn what is left for us to learn. In ‘magicking away’ people’s problems – even if it was possible – might we be short-circuiting the life-experience, the suffering, even, that they had planned for themselves in their resting, between-lives state? As a genie on day-release from HMP Battered Brass Lamp, would I be helping them or helping myself as I sprinkled the old fairy-dust and distributed my wishes? In a way, this magic lamp concept is a way of wiping out all those other people problems that nag at you, eating into your emotional capital and sapping your creativity. It’s an endless list of sorrows – but with the genie’s help you could scrub out so many of the items on that list, erasing all those worries spun out by other people’s lives.

But how hard it is to take the longer view, when there is no proof. How hard to remember that this will not last for ever, that the worst of sufferings is short-lived in the context of eternity – a sparrow’s flight across a lighted hall. How hard it is to accept what cannot be changed, and to be patient under duress. If there was such a thing as a magic lamp, how could you not reach for it?

“The present life of man upon earth, O King, seems to me in comparison with that time which is unknown to us like the swift flight of a sparrow through the mead-hall where you sit at supper in winter, with your Ealdormen and thanes, while the fire blazes in the midst and the hall is warmed, but the wintry storms of rain or snow are raging abroad. The sparrow, flying in at one door and immediately out at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry tempest, but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, passing from winter to winter again. So this life of man appears for a little while, but of what is to follow or what went before we know nothing at all.”

Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People

Be careful what you wish for

Your local electronics store has just started selling time machines, anywhere doors, and invisibility helmets. You can only afford one. Which of these do you buy, and why?

Hmm, this is an interesting one. Revealing an imagination shortfall on my part of which I am rather ashamed. I mean, everyone’s heard of Time Machines but I must admit I had never even conceived of an Invisibility Helmet or an Anywhere Door – and I should have done, having read all those Harry Potters.

My granny used to say Be careful what you wish for (because you just might get it). At the time I didn’t understand. Later I thought it might be nice to get what I wished for at least once in my life, just to test the theory out. Still waiting.

It comes from Aesop’s Fables, I believe. The story of the Tortoise and the Eagle:

A TORTOISE, lazily basking in the sun, complained to the sea-birds of her hard fate, that no one would teach her to fly. An Eagle, hovering near, heard her lamentation and demanded what reward she would give him, if he would take her aloft and float her in the air. “I will give you,” she said, “all the riches of the Red Sea.” “I will teach you to fly then,” said the Eagle; and taking her up in his talons he carried her almost to the clouds, – when suddenly letting her go, and she fell on a lofty mountain and dashed her shell to pieces. The Tortoise exclaimed in the moment of death: “I have deserved my present fate; for what had I to do with wings and clouds, who can with difficulty move about on the earth?”

The time has come to pick a gadget, since there isn’t room to ramble on about the relative merits and demerits of all three. Hmm, how to choose. I’d dearly love all three…

I’d be a trifle wary of the Time Machine, I think. I can imagine things going wrong with dials and levers – especially with me at the helm – and ending up in the Stone Age instead of the Seventeenth Century. There is also the matter of culture shock. The past sounds fascinating and romantic to my reasonably healthy, independent, well-nourished self – and from here – my nice warm office. But remember – no doctors – someone with a jar of leaches if you’re lucky – meat and no veg a lot of the time (permanent constipation) – toothache and no dentists, just someone in a fairground or marketplace with a pair of pliers and a jeering audience. Being female I’d be subject to all manner of servitude and discrimination, for most of the past. Then there’s endless pregnancy, and midwives who didn’t know what a germ was, so didn’t wash their hands.

I do quite like the idea of an invisibility helmet. I wonder what it would look like. Probably it’d have little decorative wings, like the one Hermes wore. With that in place I could be a fly on the wall – anywhere. I could slip into number 10 in the wake of the Downing Street cat, and eavesdrop on cabinet meetings. I could be lurking unseen while people were talking about me. Which would inevitably mean finding out a lot of things I never wanted to know. The only trouble is with the Helmet – you’ve still got to get there. I mean, to get any real use from an Invisibility Helmet you’d have to spend a lot of tedious time travelling – catching the bus to your relatives or the train to London. You would be dodging the fare, of course.

Which only leaves the Anywhere Door. If I could only afford one of the three, that’s the one I’d pick. I have this secret fantasy destination – an island with white sand, a stout rope hammock slung between two palm trees (it would have to be stout if I was going to lounge in it – and so would the palm trees). Somewhere below the hammock, but within arm-reaching distance, a pile of paperback books. All the really good paperback books I haven’t had time to read yet. And every now and then some barefoot someone would pad down from a beachside bar to bring me another tall orange juice with a plastic umbrella in it. With an Anywhere Door, that would be achievable. Just one step and – aloha! No airports, no queues at customs, no time – just instant place. With an Anywhere Door I could do all the travelling I meant to do but didn’t. I could travel the world and then – one step and I’m back in the living room watching Star Trek.

Knowing me, though, I’d forget where I left the door and be trapped forever in – wherever – my tropical paradise, sailing a luxury yacht in the Mediterranean or half way along the Great Wall of China.

Ah well, I can think of worse outcomes.