Friday, July 20, 2012

Life In False Colours

My city in the throes of winter
 It is an archetypal winter day in the city. The wind and rain are theatrical, hammering the peninsula so dramatically that it looks as if I'm watching a fake storm, conjured by invisible stage hands in an amateur Gilbert and Sullivan production. I'm sitting in Primi Piatti at Cavendish on my day out of theatre - "Academic Time" is what it is officially called. I'm still reeling from my first few days in my junior consultant rotation in paediatric anaesthesia, and I feel horribly out of my depth. But more so, right now, I feel tragically, self-consciously hipsteresque trying out my new Bluetooth keyboard on Jarvis, my still-shiny iPad. (I have a tendency to name my devices.) Good Lord, I'm even wearing a beanie. But it's six years old and faded. I bought it at the Gap next to Canary Wharf tube station, so hopefully the fact that it came from a big un-cool mutinational corporation will neutralize any hipster pretensions I might have projected.

The Wye Valley at Symond's Yat, Herefordshire
 I've had moments that were even more precious than this. I recall the eight months I spent in Herefordshire as a locum senior house officer in anaesthesia, when I had a tendency to spend my post-call afternoons in the Pizza Express overlooking the great pink crumbly cliffs of Hereford Cathedral, sipping Sangiovese and freewriting in a Moleskine. All particularly affected, it may well sound, but it was my way of mental defragging. Sometimes, I would get into the ancient Audi I had bought for £700 and clunk my way along to Symond's Yat to be inspired. But I would be unable to write anything, so taken was I by the river and the rocks and the forest dissolving sadly into the winter fog. The ale at the riverside inn helped too.

 No Pulitzer or Nobel prizes will ever spring from that notebook; in fact, the most prescient observation I made was copying out the mournful refrain from The Veils' "Talk Down The Girl":

I miss my girl;
I miss my girl

For I was in love but didn't quite know it yet. It would strike me, later, on top of the Empire State Building, suddenly realizing that taking in the giddy sprawl of Manhattan meant nothing to me because I couldn't share it with the one person who was supposed to be by my side. Geographically, it was the furthest I'd ever been away from her, and some silent force was rousing itself from a slumber, conspiring to pull us together as powerfully if we were stars and God had decided to invert Hubble's Law.

Seven years later, we are married, living in a cosy (if cramped) little Edwardian that keeps on swallowing money, with our suburban checklist completed: two cats, dog (stray; rescued, complete with unplanned puppy blues), dog-walker, LED TV, irrigation system. We may well have kids soon, blithely adding to the world's glut of seven billion people. It's too much, and it messes up the prosody of the Katie Melua's "Nine Million Bicycles" when she insist there are only six billion of us. That's one person for approximately every 2 years the Universe has existed. Holy population, Batman!

Some cynics say that medicine only halts nature's process of trying to cut down on the burden of overpopulation, and cite HIV as an example of natural population control. The same people - if they're dyed in the wool right-wingers - balk when I put it to them that homosexuality is also a natural form of population control. If the statistics are to be believed, 10% of the population is either gay or teeters on the brink of it. It's always been my feeling that sexuality has absolutely nothing to do with parental skills, and we may well be shooting ourselves in the evolutionary foot as long as we let hysterical morality stifle what is probably a force for good. I've even heard a few homophobes admit that it is "much better" for willing and able gay couples to adopt children that would otherwise remain homeless and doomed to a life of poverty and disease. Not exactly an exhortation of complete equality, but better than nothing I suppose.

I'm a proud libertarian, with left-wing tendencies. It's jars with my Christian sensibilities sometimes - I don't believe homosexuality is a sin, for example, so this alone makes me a bad Catholic - and I know libertarianism is self-defeating when carried out to its logical extent. However much I believe in freedom I'm forced to defend people's right to their own private beliefs no matter how odious they are - as long as they do not pose a threat to my fellow man. To paraphrase Voltaire, I'll defend your right to believe in what you want passionately, even if I can't stomach it. It becomes murky when approaching ideological brainwashing - but then this is noxious private belief trespassing on the common good.

False Colour Spectrum of Sodium

Like Iris Murdoch, I believe in a common good. I have to, even if it may not exist. It feeds me, and my wife has articulated this beautifully by saying we have to be comfortable in our hypocrisy, else we will crumble when trying to take in all the misery of the world. We really need to see through a glass darkly, the more I think about it. Maybe we can even choose our filters for that glass, then, as long as we know that they are filters, for then we can accept that whatever false colours they project are but a suggestion of what lies out there.

 I don't see myself as superior to the exisentialists who have bravely surrendered their comfortable beliefs to the cold absurdity of being human in a void that probably doesn't care. But neither do I envy them. I just have to be grateful that the thin membrane of my own existence has lasted so long. Still, I can't help feeling it's been strengthened with something, rather like adding glycerine to liquid soap so the bubbles you blow for children last a few seconds longer. I've embraced my suburban blanket, knowing that any guilt it may have engendered doesn't do me any favours - Catholicism has stocked up a lifetime of psychotherapy with that already.

Having processed all that I'm now cold and breathlesss, and my bourgeois blanket seems fluffier than ever. I live in the City of Good Hope, after all. I'll have sweet dreams tonight, that much is certain. Will you?


David said...

What a wonderful post!

Small point of order, though. Catholicism is quite specific about acceptance of dogma. I would argue (perhaps pedantically) that rejecting Catholic dogma does not make you a bad Catholic. It makes you not a Catholic.

Adalbert Ernst said...

Maybe the analogy I should have gone for is more like Diet Coke tasting like Coke, but without all the bad calories (even if it does have a funny aftertaste?)

Chivaugn said...

What a lovely, lyrical, languid, dreamy traipse through your inner milieu- as usual. I do love you. A lot.