“It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.” *
I think, like Sleeping Beauty, I must have pricked my finger towards the end of the 1990's and slept for nearly two decades. It was a strange sleep - I can remember where I was and what I did and events that happened. Outwardly I was the same - eating, drinking, working - but something key, something vital was missing. A spark had gone out.
I think I lost my natural curiosity. The ability to take an oblique view, to check - like some tosser French existentialist - all my assumptions, all my biases. But more than that, to grow inside, to nourish - yes I'll say it - the soul. Yes, I agree I sound like a nob. I'll bear that burden.
And it is only lately that I've rediscovered a sense of wonder, discovering how very little I know, that my knowledge is parochial and patchy. There's nothing brave about admitting ignorance but I do so. Which reminds me of one of my favourite Charles Bukowski quotes I've been saving up, waiting to use on this blog:-
“The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.”
So, what to do? Well, me being me, I won't be dyeing my hair green, putting on a dress and joining The Labour Party or any other crazy type of thing. Neither will I (probably.. dunno) get a leather jacket, a motorbike and drive too fast down Sussex country lanes. No, my moment of clarity comes in very Tim like ways:-
- Fiction. There' so many authors I've never read. You have to make time for this. Commuting helps. Much more 19th Century French literature. Probably not Zola who - on my brief acquaintance with him - is unremittingly dour. Too dour. Much more Balzac. But also more Great American novelists. More Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Wolfe, Roth...
- History. I have a history degree. But that's a piece of paper (lost, I think). I've always kept an eye on my favourites - Rome, 20th Century American politics, Tudors but there's so many gaps in my knowledge. So, expect me to bore you about the Dark Ages following 476, Eastern European history, The English Civil War, Marlborough, The Seven Years War etc etc. As Silent Bob says to Jay in Chasing Amy:
Bitch, what you don't know about me I can just about squeeze in the Grand fucking Canyon.
In this instance I guess I'm 'Bitch' and Silent Bob is my lack of knowledge on history.
- Thought. Management speak bollox, self-help books, fads and contemporaneous SHOUTING mean nothing to me. There's a whole world of thought out there and we pretty much know what it is from Plato, to The Bible, to St Augustine of Hippo, to Luther, Shakespeare, Adam Smith, Goethe, the Enlightenment, blah, blah. From my (limited) reading I conclude, like Harold MacMillan, "Events, dear boy, events" tend to distract us from underlying issues. The state of the human condition / behaviour has always been the same, IPads and Facebook or no. I'm curious as to what the great thinkers of the past observed. I don't expect it to make me happy but like Marcus Aurelius counselled, disenchantment is a desirable - and stable - state.
Apart from Hardy, my knowledge of poetry is shocking. I could blame my state schooling for this. Oh okay, I will. See the video below of Peter Hitchens shaming a panel of leftie Neanderthals on Question Time. Watch it all as it tees up Hitchens nicely. It almost makes you weep the way his erudite knowledge, respected finally, is gradually slipping away from us all. Well no more around this parish! Also - I want to start committing some to memory because a) you carry it around with you b) it gives my ageing brain a workout!
- Classical and more classical! Playing lots of Beethoven right now. Just downloaded his 7th. There was a programme (on the radio on the TV, dunno) which had the third movement as its theme music in the 70's. I did think it was the Galloping Gourmet (remember that!) but now I think it's just the Horse of the Year Show. So like Alex in The Clockwork Orange, plenty of Ludwig van. But also Handel, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Bach. I've no desire for dissonance. I work with the grain of my tastes.
I'll leave you with Prince Hal's soliloquy from Henry IV (Part 1). My O Level play. I always liked this speech. It speaks to me now more so than it did when I was a 15 year old.
I know you all, and will awhile uphold
The unyok'd humour of your idleness.
Yet herein will I imitate the Sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That, when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wonder'd at,
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapours that did seem to strangle him.
If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as to work;
But, when they seldom come, they wish'd-for come,
And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.
So when this loose behaviour I throw off,
And pay the debt I never promised,
By how much better than my word I am,
By so much shall I falsify men's hopes;
And, like bright metal on a sullen ground,
My reformation, glitt'ring o'er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
I'll so offend to make offense a skill,
Redeeming time when men think least I will.