Donald and Boris
Twin harbingers of the apocalypse
where will you take us next?
And will we allow it?[i]
Every Christmas or around that time – escaping school, it was Christmas in our minds – if it was frosty or snowy or even if it wasn’t, a friend and I used to spend Saturday, walking from the town where we lived, to a village 6 or 7 miles distant along the famous (to us) ‘gated road’. Starting in the dawn and ending at the onset of another premature night, those walks were the apex of the season, diminishing both its materialism and its religious hypocrisy – though of course we took the best from each: the Christmas lights, the centuries of historical atmosphere, the spirit of In the Bleak Midwinter, the idea of goodwill to all.
The pub we aimed for was always fairly empty, had a log fire and even a record player[ii]. Best of all, The Sportsman’s Inn (yes, it even had a fox hunt on the sign![iii]) was entirely relaxed regarding underage drinkers: important, since we started this tradition at about 14. As we rarely could afford more than a pint each, the publican must have been a generous man indeed to tolerate the pretentious talk and unusual smoke from Disque Bleu[iv], tea in pipes (Brooke Bond[v]) or (later) Barmora Herbal smoking mixture[vi] – less addictive but probably just as carcinogenic – which according to some less-friendly publican in Henley (as reason for asking us to leave), smelt “like bonfires or pot”.
That the beginning of the famous gated road – once a good half-mile and river-bridge clear of the edge of town, has now been partly absorbed by a housing estate, does not surprise me. Like ‘progress’, this endless expansion is locked into the human mentality, whether or not it’s necessary.
It was rare on those walks for us not to be talking the massive talk: philosophy, life, the problems with religion and politics and so on. Most common was probably the essential nature of certain artists, music and literature, contrasted with the façade or hoax of others. All these things had some kind of non-material security. Being young itself, gave a kind of certainty – even though we already suspected that the best things don’t rise to the top, any more than people are able to make their own luck. Boot-licking or chance, money or the right friends, were what was required for ‘success’. Yet regardless of possessing this common knowledge, we did retain a faith in some nebulous quality around us – beyond everyday life, beyond the vested interest mess. Something in the ether that would make the best of life for everyone, not just a small minority. Something tacitly agreed by all those of higher principle, to be worth aiming for. For that, we fired our arrows into the frost and the dark.
After the catastrophic UK election result last week, surely the result of corruption and vote-rigging – I don’t want to believe the voting public are so reckless or stupid – it seems we have finally cut all moorings and are sailing into the maelstrom, towards the worst of all possible alternatives. Yet even if the whole electoral system is f***ed, the money and the media[vii]heavily biased towards the right, surely there is still a chance for democracy to work? Just yesterday, a barman (in The Britannia Inn, no less) said to K and I, that “the old inflexible party system should have died after the Second World War”. After 40 years of voting, we tended to agree[viii]. As with education, the governmental system, has become wedded to the capitalist consumerist apocalypse. So much time is wasted scoring points off each other – the adversarial MPs, the competition grading in schools – that nothing is seen clearly any more. Not least that both systems favour the over-stressed few above the discarded many.
We raised our children to think for themselves and resist the easy lie. But the better world we might have had, even without global warming, has become (and probably always was), a fantasy. Almost every worthwhile person inevitably becomes a misfit. Many from the younger generations, sick of this toxic society, understandably work towards living off-grid instead. Maybe the Labour Party wasn’t ready, certainly the whole governmental system needs to be rethought; either way, we just don’t have time to waste on half-wits: on Burglar Boris, Nigel Farrago and their gang of racist Little Englanders – crooks leading morons, apparently endorsed by the privileged, the aspirational and the blind!
As with age and experience most of us become sceptical about political systems; about truth and justice; about ‘progress’ and wisdom; so, our cultural icons, those that made the world seem worthwhile, tend to fade. Distinctive aspects of each may remain – and generally you can still find these in their work, a tiny oasis here and there. The trouble is, that apart from a few things which improve with age, most of what they say or show, rather than entirely forgettable, just isn’t very good[ix]. It’s easy to imagine an alternative range of summits drawn from artists, musicians and writers more obscure, that would be more inspiring. Other canons which might have been infinitely superior, could be composed by figures we barely even knew existed. Each one would give an alternative angle, provide an alternative deck. Many might have helped the world towards a better chance.
When it comes to the situation, we’ve reached in the world now, it’s obvious we’ve drifted into a nightmare. A universe so far from simple moderation. As a species we are destined for the black hole. Along with Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, we needed Extinction Rebellion to have become as prominent as it is now, 30 years ago. As it is, perhaps the time for non-violence, for peaceful resistance, for hoping for the best, has come to an end? Without something changing fast, there may be no paths left between apathetic resignation, frenzy, or civil war. Goodwill to all, it seems, is a quality becoming increasingly rare. But do have a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Lawrence Freiesleben, Cumbria, December 19th 2019
[i] From Twin Harbingers of the Apocalypse, 2019
[ii] You could choose records for yourself without any charge
Their favourite pub, even in a midweek limbo, had a blazing fire. By this crackling source of heat, now festooned around with festive decorations, they would read or talk. Their only qualm about this Inn – where their underage status was never questioned – was its foxhunting sign: Crammed with cheery men in red coats, mounted on stretched out horses, the frozen action showed the traditional full-flight of aspiration. You could imagine the scene painted onto a humming top, endlessly spinning – the distant hounds always running ahead after a vanishing fox that none of them would ever catch.”
[v] Hitching from the town’s infamous gyratory system, on one occasion in about 1977, we were asked to empty our pockets by a policeman from the nearby station. Opening my old air-tight tin revealed the tea. “What’s that sonny?” he asked – though probably without the “sonny”. “Brooke Bond.” I replied. Unsure if I was being cheeky yet telling the truth, he hesitated, examining closely our expressions. Taking a sample (strange to take only a sample if he suspected it was illegal) and our addresses (false), he let us go on with our thumbing a lift . . . My friend suggested that the police station must have just run short of tea. Can’t remember if we ever got a ride that day.
[viii] Only once in 40 years, when Tony Blair was elected, were we pleased with the end result: for a while, suspending disbelief, it seemed that a New World might be possible – but sadly we all know where that led.
[ix] One wonders whether many of the artists/writers/musicians etcetera, who had their fair share of the limelight, but did themselves in nevertheless, did so more through a sense of unworthiness than lack of recognition or understanding? Pure speculation that one. Another likely possibility was that they realised and could not shake off, the infinite distance between the ideal world and the so-called real one.