Freddie Falls Down

“Whatever you think the world is withholding from you, you are withholding from the world”.

It was almost immediately after entering the birthday party of a friend on his course at university that Freddie realised his ex-girlfriend was present.

It took little more than a seemingly careless but actually anxious glance about the large, Victorian sitting room to notice that familiar bob of brilliant blonde hair, swaying in layers behind the face his lips had previously been so known to, and that was in the habit of glowing. And although she did not see him and there were bodies of people blocking his view, he could tell she was standing beside a boy, and that they were involved with one another.

Freddie immediately retreated to the kitchen, where he began to roll a cigarette to keep his attention off whomever else might be in the room. His housemate Ben followed him.

‘You alright, mate?’ asked Ben, following suit on the cigarette.

‘Izzy’s here.’

‘Oh…’ Ben paused, waiting for Freddie’s face to tell him what to say. Freddie stared down at his tobacco. ‘I mean – do you want to stay?’

‘Yeah, yeah I’ll stay, I mean – I’ll just avoid her. No point in letting your night get ruined just because there’s someone you don’t like there.’

‘Yeah, true.’

But facts are rarely as simple as statements, and as Freddie smoked his cigarette he slipped quietly but uncomfortably into the busy spots of his mind.

After a few minutes-

‘I might have another cigarette actually-‘

‘Alright man, I’m heading inside. See you in there.’

There were scores of people around him, a wash of bright young faces beating in swirls and eddies in the small, square excuse for a garden. In between them there was a cheap flow of conversation, a dead-weighted collection of symbols, and it spurted and limped out of their mouths like so much fodder for a bored mind. Beyond the pool of poorly lit humans and circling cigarette ends, up in the fringe before the earth gave way to the immense mystery of the night sky, there was a collection of lights embedded in the shady silhouettes of houses, watching bleakly down on the disinterested.

Freddie stared into the night as he dragged on his cigarette.

What was it that was so bothersome about seeing an old girlfriend with another boy? All of a sudden the flames of fancy had caught him again as he stared despondently at his imagination. It made him feel inadequate somehow; it was as if he had been replaced by someone who could do the job better.

And what did he do, this new man? Did he touch her better than he did? Did his fingers excite more static when they brushed down her arm? Did he make her feel more secure than him? Did he produce a brighter spark when he struck against stone?

He hadn’t even been that into Izzy when they were seeing each other.

Remember that!? You didn’t even like her that much! All she had been was the latest stop-gap in the series of dispassionate hook-ups that had punctuated his life up til now; she hadn’t been much more than another girl to have sex and coffee with. It wasn’t necessarily that he wanted it to be that way, but that was always how it seemed to turn out. Certainly at the beginning he had posed those absurd questions that every new romance asks: ‘Will this be love?’ ‘Could this be a family?’ ‘Will she be the person who understands me?’

Nonsensical, ridiculous questions. Of course they were. And yet somehow, by some stupid fault of the mind, they ended up being asked anyway. And now as Freddie lit up his second cigarette, he found himself wondering about them again. Had he missed something about her? Why was she coming back to haunt him now?

There was a window to his right hand side, and after a quick check to make sure there was no one he knew about him, he subtly leant against the wall and peaked into the sitting room full of people.

At first he could see nothing, but then – aha! – there she was! Exactly where he had left her. She was still talking to this new man, whom Freddie now narrowed a precise eye on. He was definitely a student, no doubt about that; he was no older than twenty-one or two, wearing a purple and turquoise adidas jacket and black jeans and holding a can of cheap beer in his large, noticeably hairy hands. In fact he seemed to exude hair; there was something about him that was just so incredibly hairy. His hair wasn’t long, and his facial hair, if you looked closely, was only stubble, but somehow he seemed so much hairier than he actually was. Why did he seem so hairy? Freddie stared acutely at his face, which was leaned over, half-beaming down into Izzy’s backwards smile, a grin punctuated by moments that could have been laughter.

An explosion of fury happened in Freddie’s chest – 1, 2, 3! – he caught himself and counted his breaths to keep it in.

What was so great about this hairy bastard? Yes he was tall and dark, and (he supposed) quite handsome in a vagrant sort of way – but he was no Freddie was he?

Rather than get caught up in that train of thought he now swung his eyes to look at the girl, though there was someone in front of her, got to wait for her to move, then they’re gone and AH FUCK she looked beautiful!

He tore himself away and caught his breath once more. His cigarette had gone out – no, it had been smoked – so he set about rolling himself another. Then, paranoid someone would speak to him, he pretended to be on his phone as he slipped himself into the darkest corner of the garden, where he could look over the wall onto the train line on the other side.

Oh no, why did she have to look so beautiful? He swore she’d never looked that good the whole time they’d been going out.

But had they really been ‘going out’? It hadn’t really been a proper relationship, had it? It was four months long – which, he supposed, is a reasonable amount of time – but it had never been official, as such. They had never met one another’s parents, or been introduced as ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’. It was one of those relationships that goes unlabelled so long that you don’t notice it until it ends.

And it really hadn’t been special at all… That was the thing. He was so ambivalent about her at the time that he had never even been certain whether to spend his evenings alone or with her. Yes, she had performed everything as best a masculine boy could hope: she was entertaining, beautiful, good in bed and perfect for showing off to his friends; but she wasn’t engaging. Very few things in the world engaged Freddie any more, even at the age of twenty-one, and Izzy was one of the many things that, until now, did not.

But she was definitely something a bit special, he could see that much. She was the kind of girl who smiled at strangers and walked through doors first; a veritable symbol of a girl, the kind of image any boy of taste would like to pin on his wall. But had he wasted her?

As he rolled his third cigarette, it occurred to him what it was he had enjoyed most from being with Izzy. It had been showing her off. He adored the way his friend’s faces piqued at the sight of her, how men would sometimes turn in the street for her, how she seemed to raise him up in the eyes of the world. He wore her like a medal around his neck.

For Freddie, you see, was one of these unfortunate young men who do what all young men are trained to do: turn women into the yard sticks for measuring their own worth.

And as such he thought that, as a woman, as a thing that he had won with his handsomeness, his charm, his perfectly performed masculinity, she ought to offer him something more than she did. He felt like she ought to have given him some kind of revelation, some kind of fundamental insight into life that no other thing could possibly give him; but by the end of the four months all he had experienced was distance and frustration, and the relationship ended silently, without so much as a word said between them.

And now he wondered, as he saw this girl, this newly beautified thing in the gaze of another man, where was the revelation she offered him?

He hadn’t found it on her when she had been naked. It sometimes seemed as though she was carrying it when she was clothed, but then the clothes came off and, after a half hour of intense, orgastic excitement, he once again saw her with naked eyes. And even when he remembered that touch, the febrile clarity of her body beating beside him, he was not transported anywhere but his own mind. He wondered if perhaps the right combination of drink, drugs and setting would grant him access to it –

he often envisaged a warm summer evening, some kind of party – a festival or a wedding – with promising spots of amber light playing with the colourful decorations about wherever they were; the girl, any girl, walking towards him excitedly, her barely containable smile hinting at the mountainous ecstasy they could both feel pulsing in their faces. In her very look was everything he desired from the world outside him: pure, total, loving understanding, the sort of gorgeous intuition that allowed her to know him as well as a mind can, and that told him over and over again that everything, everywhere, forever, was alright.

Women carried the potential for revelation, he was certain of that. But it infuriated him that he had been unable to find this thing in any of the girls he had known intimacy with, who had shared with him their dark, secret nakedness, and yet whom he had been uninterested in thereafter. Why hadn’t he been able to find something in these women?

It must be his own inadequacy.

His third cigarette at an end, Freddie glanced over his shoulder to see who was there; then he quickly made his way back inside, through the kitchen and back to the sitting room to find Ben. Ben was standing with a group of their mates, and after a quick round of greetings, he flicked his eyes over the crowd to look once again, agonisingly, at the couple.

They were still in the same place. The boy put a hand on her arm and she immediately, almost flinchingly, put her hand on his; and she looked at him with this rosy smile, so goddamn rosy, in fact the very same smile that must have looked at him a thousand bloody times but that he had never been able to understand.

Well now he understood!

He wanted to scream from his chest, or communicate through some silent way, that he could see it now, he had the perspective, the right angle, he had found the correct window, and now he could see the girl he wanted. She wasn’t there before, but now she was, in all her guilt-laden beauty. She was now the girl he might once have imagined her to be. But fantasies are like a flower: you pick it because it is beautiful, and throw it away because it has died.

Freddie’s mind fell silent for a few seconds. All his dreams wilting before him, he experienced one of those rare moments in which you can see what is actually there before you. And all he saw was a human. No special glaze, no romantic screen; no beauty on top of what was really there. She was just a human, and so was Freddie. There was no difference between them. And that was just about the moment that Freddie realised –

‘Screw this,’ he said all of a sudden. ‘I don’t need other people to make me happy.’

And he left, very, very swiftly.

Gatsby Gets Got

A ten-minute script for ‘LitLive’, November 2016.

The climactic scene of The Great Gatsby in the Plaza Hotel. Enter TOM, DAISY, JORDAN and GATSBY.

Daisy:  Oh gosh, Tom, it’s so hot! Open another window.

Tom:   There aren’t any more.

Daisy:  Then telephone room service for an axe.

Jordan: I love New York on summer afternoons when everyone’s away. There’s something very sensuous about it – over-ripe, as if all sorts of funny fruits were going to fall into your hands.

Gatsby: Beautiful, Jordan.

Jordan: Thank you, Gatsby. I was thinking about entering it into the East Egg poetry competition, but you need to pay an entrance fee of money over 300 years old for that.

Tom:   Anyone for a mint julep?

Daisy:  I would love one.

Jordan: I haven’t any cash on me.

Gatsby: That’s alright, Daisy’s voice is made of money.

Tom:   I see you’ve been listening to my wife’s voice very intently.

Gatsby: You’ve gone a bit green, Mr Buchanan. I like looking at green things.

Tom:   Don’t you dare suggest I’m one of those filthy green-skins, Mr Gatsby.

Daisy:  I suppose I am a bit husky today-

Tom:   Civilisation’s going to pieces. Have you read ‘The Rise of the Green Empires’ by this man Goddard?

Gatsby: Why, no?

Tom:   Well, it’s a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be – will be utterly submerged. By the green people! It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved. Next thing you know they’ll throw everything overboard and have intermarriage between green and white.

Daisy:  Tom’s gotten awfully green lately.

Tom:   Mr Gatsby, would you care to fetch us some ice from next door?

Gatsby: I would be delighted.

(Exits).

Jordan:           What on earth are you playing at, Tom?

Tom:               As it happens, Jordan, I’ve made a small investigation of this fellow – a small investigation into his past –

Jordan:           And you found he was an Oxford man?

Tom:               An Oxford man! Oxford, New Mexico, he wears a pink suit!

Daisy:              Listen, Tom. If you’re such a snob, why did you invite him to lunch?

Tom:               Because, Daisy, I have something very serious to reveal about his past.

Daisy:              What?

Tom:               Oh, yes. I discovered something very, very sinister about this man, more sinister than anything I’ve ever encountered before.

Jordan:           But what on earth is it?

Tom:               Oh, just you wait, Jordan, just you wait. It’s going to blow your socks off.

(Re-enter GATSBY)

Gatsby:           They’re out of ice.

Tom:               And out of luck as well.

Gatsby:           Why, whatever do you mean, old sport?

Tom:               Oh, nothing. By the way, Mr Gatsby, I understand you’re an Oxford man.

Gatsby:           Yes – I went there.

(Pause).

Tom:               (Under his breath) You bastard.

Daisy:              Tom, darling, please –

Tom:               Just one second, Daisy. I want to ask Mr Gatsby one more question.

Gatsby: Oh please, please go on, Mr Buchanan, go on.

Tom:   What kind of a row are you trying to cause in my house anyhow?

Daisy:  He isn’t causing a row, you’re causing a row!

Tom:   Yes, he is! And I have evidence – irrefutable evidence that this man is a liar, and a cad!

Daisy:  What on earth do you mean?

Tom:   He’s a bootlegger, a swindler, a goddamn, no good nuisance to society!

Daisy:  A bootlegger – a – a – swindler?

Tom:   And that’s not all, oh no – there’s something much, much worse.

Gatsby: I don’t know what you’re talking about, Mr Buchanan.

Tom:   You know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s one of the most terrible, most dastardly, most evil things a human being could do on God’s good earth!

Daisy:  What is it, Tom?

Tom:   Daisy – this man – (pause) – missold you PPI!

(Pause)

Jordan: What?

Gatsby:           I – I –

Tom:   Daisy, this man missold you PPI and I’m not having it.

Daisy:  Tom, please, have a little self-control!

Tom:   Self-control? I suppose the latest thing is to sit back and let Mr Nobody from Nowhere mis-sell PPI to your wife!

Daisy:  But – Jay, you told me the PPI was secure? You promised!

Gatsby: Daisy, listen, I-

Tom:   That’s it, Gatsby! The game’s up!

Jordan: What even is PPI?

Tom:   You’re a no-good PPI mis-selling fraudster, and there’s nowhere you can run!

Gatsby:           But, Mr Buchanan, you misunderstand me –

Daisy:              Jay, is it true?

Gatsby:           Of course it’s not true, sweetheart, I followed the letter of the law exactly –

Tom:               You did not!

Gatsby:           My PPI is authentic, I promise!

Jordan:           I don’t know what PPI is?

Daisy:              But how do I know if I’ve been missold PPI?

Tom:               When you took out the loan for that star-spangled party Cadillac,                    was it made clear that the insurance was optional?

Daisy:              No.

Tom:   Did the adviser tell you about any significant exclusions under the policy – for example, the exclusion that says you won’t be covered for any pre-existing medical condition?

Daisy:              No.

Tom:   If you had to pay for the PPI as a single payment, did the adviser make it clear that you would have to pay for the insurance up front in one single payment?

Daisy:              No!

Tom:               Then you’ve been missold PPI!

Daisy:              Oh my God!

Gatsby:           Daisy, no, it’s not true!

Tom:               I got you now, Gatsby!

Jordan:           What is PPI!?

Daisy:              This is the worst thing that’s ever happened!

Gatsby:           It’s not true, I tell you, it’s not true!

Daisy:              How could you!?

Gatsby:           Oh God, the American Dream is so empty and pointless!

Tom:               You should have stayed where you belonged, Mr Gatsby! The great American empire of PPI is too great a mountain for you to climb.

Gatsby:           I just wanted to realise my dreams!

Daisy:              On what, a pile of PPI mis-selling lies!?

Gatsby:           Curse this mortal coil, this fresh, green breast of the new world that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes, this last place in history man was face to face with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder – genuine PPI!

Daisy:              All my faith in insurance has been shaken!Tom:               And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into bad PPI!

Jordan:           What is happening!?

(Then, from offstage –)

Nick:                Freeze!

(They freeze. Enter Nick.)

Nick:                Have you been missold PPI? Has the American Dream crumbled before your eyes like Tesco value biscuits? Has the reinvention of yourself for the purposes of Romanticist realisation of dreams got you in a bit of a mess?

Then you need – Green Light Insurance Protection!

(TV audience cheers).

Thousands of families across the US have been hurt by the realisation they have been sold bad insurance.

(TV audience boos).

I’m Nick Carraway, and I’m here to tell you how to reclaim missold PPI.

(TV Audience cheers).

We helped Daisy Buchanan reclaim… money, and she said-

Daisy:              I was delighted to earn all that money back, especially since I play the role of the passive feminine object, lacking in characteristic agency or autonomy and enacted largely as a bypassing tool for masculine self-actualisation!

Tom:   What Daisy means to say is, we were delighted.

Daisy:  Tom, please, I’m trying to expose the subaltern struggles of the feminine underclass in the emancipatory search for identity-

Tom:   Hush now, sweet cheeks, otherwise you’ll wear yourself out before tonight.

(TV audience woos and wolf-whistles).

Nick:    In recent years, our great nation of America has been going down the plughole. The total, singular cause for this is people like Jay Gatsby, people who are born into poor, working class families and have the goddamn nerve to believe they can do better.

Gatsby:           But it’s the American Dream?

Nick:                Sorry, what’s that Gatsby? I can’t hear you over the sound of my reclaimed money!

(Produces a wad of notes. Everyone but Gatsby laughs).

People like Jay Gatsby mis-sell PPI to honest, hard-working Americans, and wear pink suits. It’s a real mess, folks, it really is.

So, Nick T. Carraway is calling for a total and complete shutdown of all PPI-selling nobodies from nowhere, until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.

(TV audience and all onstage cheer wildly).

Jordan:           How quaint.

Tom:               It’s about time someone put their foot down.

Daisy:  (To Nick) You resemble the advertisement of the man – you know the advertisement of the man?

Nick:    (Laughs) I sure do.

(TV audience laughs).

Now, as it happens, PPI is not the only thing that Green Light Insurance Protection will reclaim for you. In the past 2 and 3/4 months, GLIP has helped people reclaim everything from the bones of lost puppies to the empty silence of a loveless marriage fluttering away down the M32. Just to give you one example, we helped Jordan Baker reclaim her sense of bored contemptuousness, and she said –

Jordan:           Christ, this is awful.

(She exits).

Nick:                – And you can see how well that worked out. Just to give you a second example, we helped Tom Buchanan reclaim his sense of fun, and he said-

Tom:               It was amazing – I thought I’d lost my sense of fun in adolescence!

Daisy:              Oh, Tom, I’m so happy!

Tom:               Come on honeybunch, let’s go volunteer at the homeless shelter and then frolic in a meadow of flowers for a while.

(They skip offstage).

Nick:                And we even helped Jay Gatsby reclaim his reclaimed money from his missold PPI. He said-

Gatsby:           I was delighted to earn all that money back, especially since I’d already had it reclaimed from me! Maybe now I can buy Daisy’s love back! Daisy!

(Exits).

Nick:                And the inversion of logic doesn’t end there! Green Light Insurance Protection can help you reclaim anything you can imagine: sports cars, tennis racquets, children, abstract nouns, sexual encounters, libido, a sense of purpose in the meaningless and futile void that we call existence, hair– you name it, we can reclaim it!

(To the audience-)

Has anyone here got anything that needs reclaiming? Anyone?

(To an audience member)

You sir/madam, you look like you need something reclaiming. Your dress sense perhaps? (Ad lib…)

(Enter English Student (Benjie dressed as a girl), clutching a copy of The Great Gatsby.)

Student:         Oh my God, what are you doing?

Nick:                What? Who are you?

Student:         I’m an offended English Literature undergraduate, and I’ve come to complain about this, like, awful production! The Great Gatsby is, like, my favourite novel ever, and you are being totally not faithful to the original text!

(Re-enter Tom, out of character)

Eliot:               Everything alright out here, Cameron?

Cameron:       It’s fine, Eliot, we’ve just got a complaint.

Eliot:               Oh, bloody hell – (to offstage) – guys, anyone who can be bothered, we’ve got a complainant onstage!

(Re-enter the cast, out of character).

Student:         Oh my God, like, you didn’t have to get the whole cast out here, like, seriously, I’m just making a little complaint.

Nico:                I’ve actually had it up to here with these bloody oversensitive girls complaining about the way we present classic novels –

Student:         OH – MY – GOD, like, how dare you stereotype me by my gender, gender is a social construct and, like, if anyone employs reductive language on me again I think, I might, have, to SCREAM!

Cara:               Well, what’s your complaint?

Student:         Like, you turned the greatest novel of all time into an infomercial, like, that’s so not on, like I have the copy I used for my English A-level here and, like, all the notes I have got me an A-star, so, like, I think I know that you were totally not faithful to the writer’s intentions!

Tiggy:              Benjie, what the hell are you doing?

Student:         Benjie? Who’s Benjie? I’m an offended English Literature undergrad-

Tiggy:              Benjie, seriously, we all know it’s you.

Student:         I don’t know what you’re talking about-

Cara:               Wait a minute – have you written yourself into your own play?

Benjie:            No, Cara, I was trying to make the audience aware of the issue of representing the writer’s intentions, without being recognised. Hence why I’m in disguise.

Cameron:       Isn’t it a bit ironic that you’re attacking us for not being faithful to F. Scott Fitzgerald, when you actually wrote this piece?

Benjie:            Oh yeah, that’s right, lay into the writer for pointing out the inconsistencies in his own writing. I’m just trying to get ahead of the critics, Cameron.

Eliot:               I can’t believe you wrote an entire script just to draw attention to yourself as a writer.

Tiggy:              Honestly, guys, I know him and this is exactly the kind of dickhead thing he’d do.

Benjie:            Tiggy!

Tiggy:              He produced LitLive last year and he obviously wanted it to be all about himself again.

Benjie:            That is so unfair.

Nico:                I can’t believe I even took part in this play.

Cara:               A whole script, just to big up your own ego. You’re disgusting.

Eliot:               Let’s go!

(All but Benjie and Cameron make to leave -)

Tiggy:              You know he emailed Ben Bridson just to ask if he could appear as himself in Gloucester Road?

(Exit.)

Benjie:            Well, I guess that just leaves you and me, eh Cameron?

Pause.

Cameron:       Have you been missold PPI?

Benjie:            Oh my God, yes!

End.

The Tales Of Howard The Dog Pt. 2

The Mystery of the Missing Mutt

Hello, good evening, how d’you do? How delightful to see so many of you here! Now, my name is Marcus D’Invilliers-Strawley. I believe I’ve spoken to some of you before – you might know me as the owner of one Jack Russell Terrier, who goes by the name of Howard.

Now Howard, as some of you might know, is no ordinary mumbling mutt. He is a hound of the finest vintage; he was purchased from Harrods Pup Parlour at an extravagant rate fit for a dog, and came gift-wrapped with a bottle of Cognac dating back to 1654 – incidentally the year the first dogs emigrated to what is now known as the Doberman Republic.

It wasn’t long after I first adopted Howard into my humble abode of Strawley Manor, that I began to realise there was something a bit odd about him. For a start, he was wearing such fine smoking jackets, in which to smoke such fine tobacco, with which he consumed such fine beverages. It was only after he requested the key to the North-by-North-West Wing of the manor, where he could access the Classic-Picasso-Paintings-and-Dancing-Girls Parlour, that I realised I was dealing with a hound of the most exquisite taste.

Since Howard’s arrival at Strawley Manor, we’ve made quite the couple. Every day we’d have a breakfast of caviar with wine shipped straight from the region of Bordog; and after that, we’d have lunch, with a bone and wine shipped straight from the region of Cote D’og. Then in the afternoons we’d stroll about the manor, playing fetch and reciting the verse of his favourite poet, William Dogsworth.

In fact, it was on just such an afternoon that something rather strange happened.

Howard was just coming to the end of a particularly eloquent rendition of ‘Ode to a St Bernard’, and it was almost Pimms O’Clock. He was smoking his 200-year-old cedar-wood pipe, as he is liable to do on Thursdays. ‘Good for the elocution, you understand,’ he’d always say.

We were just reaching the South-by-South-Eastern region of the Estate, when all of a sudden the butler came flying over to us in his paraglider.

‘Sir!’ sighed the Butler. ‘A most terrible thing has happened! The painting in the Extravagant-Wines-Parlour has disappeared!’

‘Why!’ I cried. ‘I knew I should never have used that Harrods Own Brand wall paint!

‘No sir,’ he yawned once again. ‘I mean the portrait!’

‘By Dog,’ blasphemed Howard, suddenly distracted from the round of golf he had started playing. ‘You don’t mean to say that the portrait of my ancestor has been – embeagled?’

He was, of course, referring to the Renaissance-era portrait of his great-great-great Grand-dog, Lord St. Beagle Terrier of Balmoral, painted by Dieogo Velazmutt in 1643 – incidentally the year that the first dogs invented the leash.

‘You don’t mean,’ I said, turning to the Butler, ‘that the portrait has been stolen?’

‘Unfortunately so, sir! It is a most terrible thing to learn that such a prized possession as a family portrait, handed down from generation to generation over centuries, has been stolen or misplaced. Oh! ‘Tis no greater weight upon the heart than that of an anvil, come flying down from the intenser depths of darkness in which only the most evil acts of the cosmos could occur. Oh, woe is me! I can but hope and pray for it’s safe return, though until that time my mind shall be racked with fear, my hands a-shiver with existential damnation, and my spirit nailed to the sticking place of this futile, mortal coil.’ Laughed the Butler.

With my heart in my mouth I caught the two o’clock golf caddy back to the manor, and immediately had the manor doctor place the runaway organ back in its correct anatomical position.

Then, with the speed of a hungry whippet who’s just seen a pork sausage on the horizon, we made our way through the manor: through the Prosecco-Parlour, the Cinema-Parlour, the Cabaret-and-a-Martini-Parlour, the Horseracing-Parlour, the Non-Horseracing Parlour, The-Devonshire-Landscapes-and-Minstrel-Dancing Parlour, the Parliament-Parlour, the non-Parliament Parlour, the Parlour-Parlour, the non-Parlour-Parlour-Parlour, the Pit of Eternal Damnation, and finally our destination, the Extravagant-Wines-Parlour.

And indeed, there lay before us a most revolting sight: a bottle of Chateau d’Esclans 1948, left open on the table from our St. Labrador’s Day dinner party of the year before.

‘What a damned waste,’ said Howard, giving the wine the kiss of life to see if it was still breathing.

Then we turned our attention to the empty spot on the wall where the portrait had been hanging hours before. The painting had featured Howard’s ancestor stood nobly atop a grizzly bear that he had recently conquered. Now there was nothing but an empty space.

‘It is a little bare, isn’t it?’ remarked Howard.

‘Well, actually it was rather a large bear,’ I said.

‘That’s not what I – yes, anyway,’ said Howard, puffing pensively on his pipe of the finest vintage. ‘Now, old boy, whatever are we to do about this conundrum? I’d rather have it sorted by tea-time – I have an appointment scheduled with my vet this evening, you understand.’

I was about to pour myself a gin and tonic to help ease the nerves, but no sooner had the words ‘alcoholic assistance’ left my mouth than a sound of the feline variety erupted from behind me.

‘Well, well, well,’ purred the voice. ‘Looks like you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.’

‘Well,’ said Howard, ‘if it isn’t Purrs Meow.’

And indeed it was none other than Purrs Meow, the mobster moggy, wearer of pinstripe suits and Howard’s sworn enemy.

‘And you thought you’d seen the last of me,’ cackled the criminal cat. ‘You ought to know that cats have more than one life, Howard old boy.’

‘What do you want, Purrs,’ growled the heated hound, sipping at his newly poured glass of whisky furiously. ‘Strawley Manor has no space for mischievous moggies such as yourself.’

‘Oh, I do not want much,’ purred the puss, lighting up a Cuban cigar of the finest vintage. ‘But if you want to see your painting again, then I suggest you give to me – the rights for the Strawley fresh water lake!’

‘The Strawley fresh water lake!’ I cried, mixing myself a single malt whisky. ‘Why, I could never give that to you! It contains salmon of the finest vintage!’

‘Exactly right!’ cried the cat. ‘The tastiest and most exquisite salmon a cat could lay its paws on! Why, with fish of such standard I could be a cat millionaire! A cationnaire!’

‘What a poor excuse for a neologism,’ remarked Howard, taking a seat and putting his Belgian brogues up on his paw-rest. ‘Here, Purrs old boy, why don’t you have a sip of this? It was milked fresh from the Strawley Manor cows just this very morning.’

All of a sudden Howard produced from his corduroy jacket none other than a saucer of milk of the finest vintage.

‘Milk!’ said the parsimonious puss. ‘From the Strawley Manor cows! Why, that is supposed to be the finest milk in the land!’

‘Indeed,’ said Howard. ‘And with just a hint of Sauvignon Blanc added to give it an extra – je ne sais quoi.

‘I mustn’t, but – I cannot resist,’ gasped the moochy moggy as he battled desperately with his inner demons. ‘Oh, go on then – just one sip.’

He marched across the room and took just one lap of the milk.

‘There, that is all – but, oh, it is so tasty!’

Suddenly Purrs snatched the whole saucer out of Howard’s paw, and before we knew it all the milk was gone.

‘Oh no, I have made a mistake,’ growled the cat in yet another strange inversion of dog/feline roles. ‘You have put cat-nip in this milk!’

‘Looks like you might just have run out of another of your nine lives,’ quipped Howard, insouciantly checking the dogs-e 100 index on his canine-issue iphone.

But Purrs seemed more determined than that.

‘Aha! For you see, since last we met I have learnt to tackle the effects of cat-nip! It does not affect me anywhere near as much as it used to.’

But, just as we thought Purrs might have got away with it, in came the Butler, wheeling with him a tray carrying none other than a Strawley fresh water salmon.

‘Your afternoon salmon, sir, as requested?’ groaned the Butler.

‘Quick!’ I said. ‘Throw it out the window!’

‘Don’t worry, this one won’t bite you like last time.’

‘Just do it!’

The Butler obediently did as requested, and threw the salmon through the conveniently open window. Purrs, in his cat-nipped state, couldn’t resist.

‘I must have that fish!’ he cried as he sailed for the window. ‘I have the munchies!’

And before we knew it, Purrs Meow had jumped through the window, and was taken care of once again.

‘Terrific show!’ said I, clinking glasses with Howard in celebration. ‘May that be the end of Purrs Meow!’

‘Huzzah! Let’s all celebrate with a bottle of cognac!’ complained the Butler. ‘I’ll let my wife know immediately!’

I knew this would be difficult for the Butler, as he hadn’t spoken to his wife in twenty years. After all, he didn’t like to interrupt her.

‘I wouldn’t be so sure of that, old boy,’ said Howard, casually beginning a game of monopoly and purchasing Fleet Street as he lit up his pipe. ‘Cats always land on their feet.’

‘I suppose you’re right,’ said I. ‘But what of your painting? Purrs still has it in his catty clutches.’

‘Please, old boy, you underestimate me,’ simpered the cunning canine. ‘The copy Purrs has is a fake. I keep all my genuine paintings in the Genuine Paintings Parlour.’

‘Terrific!’ I said. ‘Well, it just goes to show – it’s never too late to teach an old dog new tricks.’

And with that, we all finished our bottles of brandy, and moved onto the Fine-Steaks-and-a-Cabaret Parlour to celebrate.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, that’s all we have time for tonight. I hope you enjoyed hearing a bit about my life with Howard, and if there are any further adventures, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Tootle-pip!

Notes On The Mental Health Crisis

It ought to be well within your attention that we are in the middle of what is being called a mental health crisis, and I want to make a few suggestions as to why this might be.

As it stands, the regular statistics for the UK suggest that 1 in 4 people are experiencing a mental illness at any one time. Most common at the moment appears to be anxiety: the Mental Health Foundation says that in 2013 there were 8.2 million reported cases of anxiety disorder in the UK – which amounts to nearly 13% of the country. Under the banner also come illnesses like depression, schizophrenia, psychosis, eating disorders, PTSD and ADHD.

And it appears, at least superficially, that it is getting worse. A statement from the NSPCC released just last month revealed that there had been a 35% rise in the number of Child Line counselling sessions on anxiety in the last year, for example; and meanwhile local mental health services are being overrun with demand. In one of the more ominous claims, the WHO have predicted that, by 2020, depression will be the second biggest debilitating illness in the world and by 2030 the biggest. They seem to think it is growing; and if it is, then we ought to start asking some serious questions.

I personally am under no illusions that our society is to blame more for these problems than, say, genetic characteristics. I say this in part because there is no conclusive evidence that these problems are innate: most people assume that disorders are a result of genetic and neurological processes, but there is no outright evidence on this. Every finding can be contradicted by another.

I say this also in order to fight something called the ‘illness model’, which is basically the belief that mental illnesses are not related to any environmental factors. Consider for instance, if you were feeling interminably down, and you were told you have depression. Then when you feel down you can think to yourself, ‘I feel down because I have depression’, rather than asking any questions about what other things might have affected your mood in this way. This hiding behind the label – ‘I feel anxious because I have anxiety disorder’ – lets society off the hook. It ignores the really very obvious relationships between us and our environment that could be causing these problems – and anxiety in particular.

So – what angle to approach this from? Where do we begin with deciphering the prevalence of mental illness in our day and age? For now, I want to come at this from one theoretical view: hyper-individualism.

Now I find it very interesting that those who suffer from mental illness often report the sensation of being ‘trapped’ in their own head, like they’re just stuck in this body that doesn’t really have anything to do with them. Part of the reason mindfulness is so effective for anxiety and depression is arguably because it allows you to ‘escape’ your own head by getting more in touch with the world outside you. The feeling of being isolated, separate and trapped is one that goes hand in hand with any experience of mental illness.

So is part of the mental health crisis down to the way we are encouraged to experience ourselves psychologically? And is this being made worse at the moment?

I would say yes. The fierce individualism that characterises our society, intensified by social media, the press, celebrity culture, the atmosphere of competition, the need to look as well as be beautiful, the feeling you are missing out all the time, that you aren’t as good as the others, that you don’t fit in – all of these are things that are poisoning our social environment at the moment.

And it is exacerbating the already questionable way we experience ourselves as centres of consciousmess.

In the West, and particularly the countries that grew up with Christianity, we have learnt to experience ourselves as a centre of consciousness located inside our head. We tend to view our body and the world around us as something alien and even hostile. Not every culture does this: many think of ‘themselves’ as being located in entirely different parts of the body, like the heart and diaphragm. But for us in the West at least, the last three hundred years have made this sensation of being an isolated ‘thing’ in a body intensified by enormous social, cultural and philosophical upheavals.

So I’d like to be brave (or stupid) enough to suggest one thing in particular that sums up a lot of this negativity: egotism.

Essentially, as a society we have become more egotistical – by which I mean we have become more concerned with ourselves. We are more focussed on the phenomena of ‘self’, the sense of who we are, what it’s like to be within our own consciousness, and on what constitutes a successful ‘self’. We are supremely individualistic.

The reasons for this are, of course, varied and complex enough to not be able to explain them in the required depth in this short and rather chaotic article, but they can still be summed up. They are more or less all down to capitalism, consumer culture and certain attitudes that philosophical movements have left us.

If I may sweep indelicately over the history that may have led us to the mental health crisis:

The pattern of every major socio-cultural or economic movement of the last three hundred years has encouraged us to become more individualistic. Industrialism broke up the old rural communities and pushed the labour force into cities, where work was divided and community was sparse. At about the same time, from the 17th Century onwards, the philosophical movement we know as the Enlightenment completely changed the way we approach ourselves and the world around us. Individualism was one of its key tenets: suddenly political discourse was about the freedom of the individual, and spiritual discourse about the potential non-existence of God. Suddenly, instead of relying on a divine being as the centre of cosmic power, we became sceptical and began to consider more how our own consciousness defines reality rather than a God. While capitalism was causing community to disintegrate, the emphasis of the public mind had shifted irrevocably onto the individual.

We see this change reflected in literature from 1800 onwards, when the Romantic movement came into being – an artistic explosion that was completely and utterly focussed on the experience of the individual. For the first time the world was experiencing a wealth of literature that explored what it is to be a ‘self’: Wordsworth’s Prelude, for example, first begun in 1798, is an entire poem dedicated to the development of Wordsworth’s mind as he grew up (it was subtitled Growth of a Poet’s Mind). It follows his memories from boyhood to adulthood, and all the significant ‘spots of time’ that he decided made him what he became. His Romantic acolytes, Byron, Shelley et al., were all similarly employed in writing literature concentrating on the individual’s experience of life, and in doing so they set a very strong trend that continues to define our culture.

Similarly, in the period after WWI we had Modernism, another artistic movement that had the individual consciousness at its heart – only this time it was more engaged with using form to recreate conscious experience. James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1917) is directly indicative of this, as a whole novel dedicated to tracking and replicating the construction of Joyce’s consciousness as he grew up. And from Modernism later grew Postmodernism: a movement that illustrated the meaninglessness of life, sceptical of any greater significance, any absolute reality, and that often conjured images of the dazed human consciousness facing up to a world too bewildering to understand. Postmodernism suggested that the only ‘truth’ you experience is your own subjective experience, that there is no purpose to existence, that we live amongst a disorienting collection of symbols that bare no relation to reality, and that life is a violent occurrence in which people attempt to exercise power over one another. Protection of the self is therefore of the utmost importance in this careless, vapid universe that makes no sense and appears to have it in for us.

The Postmodern condition is the poison we are living with now. Not only are we encouraged to feel like scared, isolated centres of consciousness in a universe that does not care for us, but we are encouraged to be totally individualistic in order to ‘get through’ life. You’re not encouraged to enjoy life necessarily – just to ‘get on’ with it. Forget other people: you may as well look after number one. Perhaps as a concurrent result of this, in the decades following the creation of Postmodernism, membership of both political parties and religious institutions declined sharply. Herein perhaps lies one clue to the sense of listlessness, loneliness and despair that we know as depression.

So there is one way of seeing our present ill health: in the way our intellectual history has guided us. But we can’t stop there. A postmodern society is bad enough by itself, but it is capitalist consumerism that has really driven the nail in deep.

It is generally accepted that consumerism on the scale that we call mass consumption started in the 1960s. More than just a market practice, consumerism is an entire ideology: it emphasises the ‘freedom’ of the individual in being able to choose which products they consume; it encourages the pursuit of ‘the good life’ through the acquisition of money and material goods; it attempts to cut across all social boundaries of class, race, sex and gender, whilst simultaneously and implicitly reinforcing them.

As briefly as possible, consumerism reduces the scope of human endeavours to material things that belong to the individual. We are encouraged to define ourselves by what we own and the way we look, and to become an individual based on these things. Consumerism is necessarily divisive because it needs to create as many different kinds of markets to sell as much stuff as possible. Therefore it will make people believe that they belong to an ‘identity group’ that can be sold specific things: even, for example, children’s food. Children’s food is a total creation of consumerism. At no point in history would the children of the family every have eaten anything very different from the adults, whereas now you can walk into a supermarket and find food marketed for specific age groups. The same goes for any product marketed at specific identities. Humans are encouraged to feel that they belong to rigidly defined ‘categories’ that force them to be individualistic, perhaps even narcissistic, and separate from others.

This shaping of rigorously divisive identity is something that consumerism has aided and abetted as much as started. We can see the intensification of the focus on self elsewhere in the identity movements of the last half-century: feminism, LGBT rights and the race rights movements. These are important movements that anyone with eyes in their head ought to be behind, but they do also carry with them innate problems. On the one hand their grouping together under an ‘identity’ has allowed them to organise and mobilise, and thereby achieve a better status in society; on the other, they have cut themselves off from others who do not belong to their ‘identity’.

This is the inherent problem of identity: it makes you feel separate. It encourages you to focus on yourself. And this is precisely why the kind of consumerism we have in our society could have everything to do with the mental health crisis.

Clumsily put together though this is, I hope I might have outlined some of the things that have influenced the individual consciousness in recent years, and indeed pushed it into unhealthy waters. When the human mind is made to feel isolated, when pressure is loaded on it to perform, when it is made to feel that the world around it is hostile and confusing, it becomes distressed. Both our intellectual history and our present socio-economic circumstances seem to encourage this to happen, and therein might lie a clue to why anxiety is the new norm.

The Tales Of Howard The Dog

A Comedy Monologue

Part 1: The Case of the Cryptic Cat

Enter Marcus, an eccentric, upper class gentleman. He reads from a book.

Good evening ladies and gentlemen, and might I say what a special delight it is to see so many of you all gathered here tonight, just to listen to me. My name is Marcus D’Invilliers-Strawley, and I’m here tonight to tell you about my pet dog. I’m rather lucky to be the owner of a certain Jack Russell terrier who goes by the name of Howard. Here’s a photo of him, if you could just pass that around –

(Produces photo of Howard the Dog and hands it to the audience).

Now, if you will allow me, I’d like to tell you a little bit about the relationship Howard and I have, and some of the adventures that we’ve been on over the years.

(Begins reading.)

It was not long after first adopting Howard into my humble abode of Strawley Manor that I began to realise he was not your average pootling pup. I should have expected this, as he came from the Harrods Pup Parlour, and was a hound of the finest vintage. On the very first evening of our acquaintance I left the newly acquired hound in his newly acquired hound chamber of the finest vintage, so that I could go to the drinks parlour to fetch myself a newly acquired gin and tonic (of the finest vintage). With the aforementioned drink newly acquired, I returned to the hound chamber expecting to find my canine companion tucked up asleep in his bed of the finest vintage, but he was nowhere to be found. With nothing but my G and T to accompany me, I searched all over the manor wondering where on earth my devious dog had got to. I searched in all the rooms, including the kitchens, the smoking parlour, the non-smoking parlour, the dining parlour, the non-dining parlour, the polo parlour, the summer sports parlour, the Jacuzzi-and-a-frappucino parlour, the Dungeon – but he was nowhere to be found.

Defeated and alcoholic, I returned to the drinks parlour, only to stop, baffled at the sight before me. For there was Howard the Dog, dressed in a velvet smoking jacket of the finest vintage, sitting at the bar partaking in a White Russian.

‘What’s he doing here?’ I exclaimed.

‘Chert, sozhaleyu!’ said the White Russian. He exited quickly.

‘Howard, what is the meaning of this?’ I demanded.

The mischievous mutt began mixing himself a vodka tonic, then eyed me carefully. Then he looked at my face.

‘I see you didn’t know what variety of pet you were purchasing, old boy,’ he simpered, gnawing tentatively at his tail. ‘I’m related to the Westley Jack Russell terriers. My father was the master of Dog College, Oxbridge. A higher class of canine you couldn’t hope to find at a Crufts winner’s convention. Care for another gin and tonic, or shall we move onto the Armand de Brignac?’

Surprised though I was to find my newly acquired hound wearing such fine garments and sipping such fine beverages (of the finest vintage), I couldn’t disguise my need for another drink. So we sat and chewed the cud for a few hours, and once the cud had been chewed I called the butler to take it away in a bin, and decided that this portentous pooch might not be such a bad addition to Strawley Manor.

‘By the way,’ he added, consulting his canine-issue Rolex. ‘I’d rather if I could move out of the hound chamber and sleep in the 16th Century four-poster bed upstairs. Personal taste, you understand.’

It was then that I realised I was dealing with a dog of the most exquisite taste.

And thus it was that Howard and I began our acquaintance. We made quite the couple. Every morning Howard would come down and eat a breakfast fit for a dog: fresh caviar from the Strawley fresh water lake, with fine spices imported from Pup-a-New Guinea and served with a lightly-buttered bone of the finest vintage. ‘Good for the teeth, you understand,’ he’d always say. For my part I could always help him finish the bone if he was full, but I was never one for shellfish because I’m a vegetarian.

Mornings were spent reading the classics of literature: ‘Gulliver’s Poodle’ by Dogathan Swift, ‘The Picture of Doberman Gray’ by Pointer Wilde, ‘The Collar Around Your Neck’ by Chihuahua Ngozi Adichie, and, his personal favourite, ‘Pride and Border Collies’ by Great Dane Austen. Lunch was biscuits over a copy of the Canine Institute Magazine, and then in the afternoon we would wander about the Strawley Estate, discussing the principles of contemporary metaphysical philosophy and playing fetch with his favourite tennis ball, a family heirloom handed down from his great-great-grand-dog, Colonel St. Bernard Westley (of the finest vintage). Sometimes he would indulge in a chewy toy, but only ever on Chews-days.

One afternoon, however, rather a funny thing happened.

Howard and I were out on the Strawley Lake in our rowing boat, and it was roughly Pimms O’Clock. I was in my usual gentleman’s get up, while Howard was wearing his favourite corduroy jacket, cream chinos, maroon cravat, silk shirt, Belgian brogues, pipe and fine moustache, gently humming the national anthem to himself as he rowed. I was just about to tuck into my third clotted cream scone of the finest vintage, when all of a sudden the butler sailed over to us on his surfboard.

‘Sir,’ he chirped to us from across the waves, ‘a gentleman has just arrived at the manor, and he requested you read this letter.’

He handed an envelope to me, and I carried out my generous tradition of tipping him (turns page) – into the lake, along with the scone.

‘Whatever could this be?’ I wondered aloud as the butler began his front crawl back to shore.

‘Dear Mr D’Invilliers-Sprawley,’ began the letter. ‘It has come to my attention that you have recently adopted a rather remarkable personage of the canine complexion into your manor. To boldly ask no small favour, I request that you come and meet me immediately to discuss an urgent matter with regard to this problematic pooch. You are to bring no dogs, no mice, no large bodies of water, and by the wayside a saucer of milk and a fish or two wouldn’t go amiss.’

It seemed innocent enough.

‘Don’t you think there’s something a bit strange about it?’ said Howard.

‘Oh, you noticed the split infinitive in the second line as well?’ said I.

But all of a sudden Howard had started playing a game of chess, and was too engrossed to reply.

With haste I returned to the manor to meet my mysterious visitor. The butler showed me through to the guest parlour, where I found the most shocking sight: a live electric wire coming out of the ancestral television! As soon as it was off, I turned around to greet my guest. To my surprise, he was a cat, dressed in a double-breasted pinstripe suit of the finest vintage. It was one of the most hideous spectacles I had ever seen – the ones perched on the end of his nose. I supposed that cats did not have good taste for eye-wear.

‘Mr D’Invilliers-Sprawley, I presume,’ said the cat, reaching out a furry paw for me to stroke. ‘My name is Purrs Meow. I have come here to discuss the matter of Howard the dog. If you do not listen carefully to what I say, you could end up behind bars.’

‘Well, that’s alright,’ I replied. ‘I pull a perfect pint.’

‘That’s not what I mean,’ barked the moochy moggy in a strange inversion of traditional dog/feline roles. ‘I have come because that dog has something that belongs to me: a gold tooth in the back of his mouth, made of precious metal that belongs to my family. It was stolen by his great-great-grand-dog Dame Husky Rottweiler in the Second Pet War of 1929, and I want it back.’

‘Outrageous!’ I said. ‘The Second Pet War occurred in 1928!’

‘Whatever!’ snarled the cat in a further strange inversion of dog/feline roles. ‘If my property is not returned to me, I shall call the Tabby lawyer and have you meowsted!’

I admitted that this sounded unpleasant, before realising that the television had come back on and was playing Coldplay on MTV. I quickly deactivated the electronic distraction and returned to the matter at hand.

But before I could argue any more with this parsimonious puss, none other than Howard the Dog burst into the guest parlour.

‘Well if it isn’t Purrs Meow,’ growled my canine companion in a return to traditional dog/feline roles. ‘Don’t listen to a thing he says, Marcus. He’s nothing but a con-cat!’

‘I am not con-cat, I am pro-cat!’ pronounced the felonious feline. ‘And you have a tooth that belongs to me!’

I wasn’t going to take this lying down, so I got up off the floor.

‘Gentlemen, please,’ I cried, pouring myself a glass of shandy and beginning to sip it through a curly straw of the finest vintage. ‘Isn’t there some way we can work this out?’

I knew this would be difficult for Howard, as he voted to leave the EU because he believed there were too many cats coming over here and claiming milk benefits.

However, my feline-sceptic friend surprised me.

‘Why don’t you join us for a drink?’ said the dog, mixing a G and T whilst lighting his pipe insouciantly. ‘I’m sure we can talk this out.’

‘Alright, just the one,’ said Purrs Meow, lapping at the drink Howard handed him. After a minute, however, Purrs suddenly seemed rather more demure.

‘What’s happening? Why do I feel so strange?’ All of a sudden he stared furiously at Howard. ‘You’ve put cat-nip in this drink!’

‘Well,’ said Howard, ‘I thought it was about time that you got catatonic.’

‘Terrific show,’ said I, and we clinked our glasses together in celebration.

‘This isn’t the last you’ve heard of Purrs Meow!’ vowed the tiger relative as he made for the door. ‘I’ll be back, and that tooth shall be mine!’

Unfortunately he didn’t get too far, as he passed out in the golfing parlour and the butler had to caddy him away.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, that’s all we have time for tonight. I hope you enjoyed hearing a bit about my life with Howard, and if there are any further adventures, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Tootle-pip!

The Way An Adolescent Boy Falls Into Romantic Love And Believes Women Are Mystical Items For His Own Self-Transformation

Me, I and only I, in all my dusk-ridden dreams descending, I wait for the crowded, misty-marked figure of a woman to lead me into the becoming of myself; to see once again the dense cusp of haze leading down over heavenly fields and angel-cast trees watching from light-spangled darkness. I remember in teenage years imagining that figure, woman, insubstantial spectre walk me away and into the fog of fantasy, and larger, never into the world of the adult.

And further on is the haunting; unnumbered quantums of time where through the roofs and through the windows of even the tightest bedrooms would seep the calculable dust of female lies cascading, the indiscreet murmurings astir in the tickling rustles of leaves outside, the evanescent briefing that you have lost control, the symbols cascade against you, and all in every nightbed swarming, in undiluted dreams thwarting, in early morning sweat forming, she is the thing that seized you.

The bedroom is the loneliest place in the world. It is where public and private collide, where image greets reality, and where we confront what we believe to be our true selves.

Even the most dreamless places are dreamed of by the boy in love, even the emptiest symbols become full of fantasy, even the loneliest of minds are visited by ghosts. Every day becomes an evening, and every night becomes a morning, and with every passing day you wake up a little bit more selfish, and a little bit closer to an end; every dawn is like the breaking of a wound that bleeds afresh; every sad pointlessness is thrown out like the tapping of a tear on your cheek.

And more and more like this – this is the teenage boy’s fantasy, the gorgeous chaos to which he throws himself –

And all in all I’m waiting –

Where eyes dance upon her movements like a cork upon the tide; I want to meet the insubstantial beauty that my soul so constantly screams for; and I can still see her, smiling on the beach, always remaining the one unfinished piece of a past that was so imperfect – and I could not feel for land, feet thrashing furiously beneath the silent skin of hopelessness that was the water dragging me away – and DAMN! I need to go back, so take me back to this thing, that dragon that was the glamour of childish days!

What a mistake that is. But still I am waiting, the insubstantial woman obfuscating, passing back more and more down that hazy-eyed path, and finally, in that tragic moment, be something new –

But aren’t these lies tempting…

Trump’s Election and The Need to Get Political

The world is heading in the wrong direction – all of us need to start engaging.

At about 5 o clock this morning it started to become apparent that Donald Trump would become the President of the United States. I was one of the unfortunate ones who had allowed himself to believe that statistics favouring Clinton would lead to safe victory: as soon as Florida went Trump’s way that hope was gone. By the time Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin had turned red, there didn’t seem to be much other option than to think long and hard about what good might come out of a Trump Presidency.

And here it is: waking up!

I want to think about what has happened here. America has elected someone who is not only a gibbering liar, but who is racist, sexist, homophobic, narcissistic, sociopathic, incompetent and incoherent. He embodies almost every single negative aspect of humanity. He has justified the most abhorrent bigotry in his population. He did not have to talk in facts but only in feeling; he did not have to justify why he was standing up before millions and telling them to direct their hatred at Mexicans, Muslim, the media, politicians, but only to do it. He is so incapable that his own campaign team suspended him from using his own twitter account – and now he finds himself in control of the nuclear codes.

Why?

The election of Donald Trump was a revolution, and revolutions come out of revolting places. The American population, so furious with their cocktail of unemployment, stagnant wages, increasing living costs, decreasing living standards, reduced worker’s rights, loneliness, mental illness, incapable political system and incapable politicians, were ready to believe anything. Fed up of being constantly told that their socio-economic status is their fault alone as individuals, they were ready to listen to someone who told them it’s all the fault of people who cannot defend themselves – namely immigrants.

It mirrors the ascent of Hitler in so many ways: there is a country in which the people feel they have lost control, when all of a sudden a charismatic leader appears and tells them to blame it all on a scapegoat. For Hitler it was Jews, for Trump it is Muslims. Facts and details are unnecessary, emotion is everything. He whips up passion and creates a narcissistic cult around himself; then he tells people to attack others.

And this is a historical cycle that is repeating itself across the world. Russia has had Putin doing this for some years now, Turkey has recently arrived at the same place, and Poland, Hungary and Slovakia are fast heading in that direction. Britain has pulled out of the EU, leaving Putin’s primary obstacle weaker; across Europe and America, the far Right is surging on a tide of popular hatred. In Britain it is UKIP, in France Le Front National, in Germany Alternativ fur Deutschland. Their message is to blame immigrants for the general feeling of discontent: blame Muslims! Blame the EU! Blame everything that is Other to yourself; blame everyone but the ones who are doing the blaming. 

And in this atmosphere it is impossible for those of us with the privilege and distance from the issues to try and help without being shouted at. People like me, Socialists of the middle classes, the kind of people who have an intellectual overview of events but no direct contact with the problems that spur them, are not welcome in the debate. We get blamed for being part of the cause of the hatred.

And here’s part of the problem, the ‘Post-Truth’ world in which we live: (very) loosely speaking, the political Left tends to use facts and statistics where the Right tends to rely on anecdotal evidence. But the Left is increasingly being consigned to the middle classes, and since the middle classes are the ones who are supposedly being rejected (in actual fact it’s the super-rich), then rejected also are the facts. When a ‘liberal elite’ radio host tells a caller that immigrants are statistically good for the country, they get shouted down for being condescending, out of touch and, paradoxically, hateful. In a Post-Truth world, the ones calming the hate are the ones accused of causing it.

In a Post-Truth world, things do not need to make sense. They only need to feel right. Donald Trump can spew hatred at Chinese appropriation of American business whilst wearing a Trump-manufactured shirt with a ‘Made in China’ label on it; Theresa May can claim she is on the side of Leave voters when she had previously said leaving was a terrible idea; normal people can claim all our problems are the fault of immigrants when there is no statistical evidence to suggest this.

Anyone who contradicts the gut feeling (‘immigrants are bad’) with facts (‘immigrants make a net contribution to the economy’) gets shot down. If a member of the educated middle classes tells a lower class person that their facts are wrong, they get accused of snobbery.

But this determination not to engage in debate is not consigned to the populist Right – it is equally present in the hard Left. There have been notable examples in recent years of certain groups, such as student Feminists, shutting down conversation on the grounds of offensiveness and ignorance. British universities are coming into criticism for no-platforming a ‘controversial’ speaker every other week; works of fiction, theatre and film are greeted with disdain if their audience does not completely agree with their message; arguments about cultural appropriation, censorship and offensiveness are becoming commonplace. Just like the furious Right, the furious Left are as determined not to listen to opinions other than their own. They are trying to make the world fit themselves rather than make themselves fit the world.

In many ways we are closing in on the political landscape of the 1930s – a landscape in which everything is polarised, in which extremes of Right and Left are the given positions and everyone belongs to either/or. Eric Hobsbawm once commented that, as a student at Cambridge in the ‘30s, he could ask everyone on King’s Parade for a political position and receive an answer of ‘Fascist’ or ‘Communist’ from everyone he asked. We are not quite at that stage yet, and when it comes the terms will not be ‘Fascist’ and ‘Communist’ – we cannot say what they will be, but we can say that it will happen.

The fact is that we are living in a world that is increasingly fractured, disillusioned and angry, and in such an atmosphere all it will take is for someone to stand up and say ‘blame it on the Muslims’. We’ve already had Nigel Farage stirring the pot of hate, and as a result UKIP’s popularity has soared. Now we have Donald Trump in the White House.

So I want to throw my hat into the ring and be so audacious as to suggest what might be done about this.

The key similarity between all these angry groups, the racists, the Leave voters, the Trump voters, the UKIP voters and the Regressive Leftists, is that they feel threatened. The globalisation of markets has left the economically vulnerable behind, and an age of anxiety and depression has arisen. Their frustration with the political establishment has now become so obvious that we cannot possibly ignore it. Identity groups in part are being attacked because the people they are taking the power from, usually straight, white men, sense they are losing control. Anger is the default mode.

So how do we stop these people being so angry? How do we begin to grow unity rather than sowing division? The answer is to reach out to the people we disagree with, to find the common ground and build from there.

It is clear that there are different aspects of society living in their own echo chambers. This needs to stop. If you are a Socialist, go out and talk to a UKIP voter; stop bickering amongst yourselves. Start making constructive suggestions.

I am a Socialist, and as such I believe that a Leftwards swing will dampen the hysteria we are seeing. Part of the reason people feel powerless is because of the lack of rights at work, the ability of bosses to walk all over their workforce (in the UK fees of up £1,200 for filing complaints were introduced in 2013, for example), the high cost of living, the absurd hours people are being asked to work, the lack of community, the diminishing welfare state and the lack of mental health support.

The answer surely is positive government intervention. Repeal the evil trade union laws that have prevented workers from getting a fair deal and make the unions stronger: from this we can fight for higher wages, for lower rent, strong workers’ rights and sensible working hours. Renationalise key assets to give the consumer a fairer deal: the railways, energy, manufacturing. Reverse the cuts to welfare we’ve endured under the Tories and give people a proper safety net from which to build their lives. Invest in local government to give the poor a leg up into education and politics. Change the voting system from the supremely undemocratic First-Past-The-Post to a proportionally representative system like the Single-Transferrable-Vote. Perhaps introduce the universal basic income. Get politicians to stop believing that business is the only thing that is important, and begin to realise that people need more in their lives.

If you are a Socialist, get out there and call yourself a Socialist. Socialism is a great product and we need to sell it: we need to prove how greater cooperation between business, government and trade unions is more profitable, more efficient and more productive. We need to prove that investing in the working classes, in women, minorities and the marginalised will lead to a wealthier and happier world. We need to show that workers owning and running the businesses they work for is a better model for money and happiness.

Let’s bring social class back into the conversation alongside gender, race and sexuality – let’s start questioning the systems that keep creating these problems rather than the individuals that commit them. Does parliament serve a positive purpose? Should private education exist? Should taxes be low enough to allow all the money we generate as workers to vanish into the pockets of the super-rich?

Stop attacking the people who feel left out and start letting them in; let’s start creating a positive vision rather than destroying the negative one. Sexism, racism, snobbery, attacks on unions, workers rights and the poor – all of this is awful. We start to help when we give the people who commit them reason to stop.

To reverse the age of ‘Post-Truth’ back to an age of Truth, we need to give people the stability to listen to the facts. In order to stop the hateful lunacy that is rising across the Western World, we need to act, fast.

If you value peace, unity and cooperation over hatred, division and negativity, then you must realise the way the world is moving right now. If you stay silent, if you do not get up and start presenting this positive vision, then you are letting the forces of stupidity run riot. If we do not give the UKIP supporters reason to stop supporting that party, then the far Right will continue to grow.

We are heading for one of the most challenging political ages in humanity’s history, let there be no doubt about that. Don’t sit back and let it go the way of the hateful. Learn your politics, learn the arguments, get behind the ones doing the right thing.

The Western world needs the Left to wake up after 40 years of dormancy and start fighting again. If we don’t then we’ll be giving the populist Right, the racists, the misogynists, the vessels of irrationality and hatred a free hand to tear our society up – because of what? A sense of insecurity. In that case, we need to make them feel secure. We need the Left back.