But that would have ended badly, in circumstances involving a stake, some bundles of dry wood, and somebody with the woodcraft skills not to have to wait for lighters to be invented. Because I’m a slow learner (in today-speak, a late adopter) I might then have gone into a life of mysticism and wizardry, wearing a long cloak, growing my beard past the itchy stage and dying it greyer with ash from all my ritual-fire ceremonies … wearing a big hat and carrying a big stick and defying the Romans. Some bard would have written a description that survived into a museum collection, and Tolkein would have found it and dreamed up Gandalf.
Dry twigs, anybody? But that would have ended, um, yeah. Then maybe I would have applied to join the Medieval Church as a scribe, shaving my bald patch into place in advance of its arrival, going big on piety and the acceptance of whatever alms happened to be on offer on Wild Boar Night at the local hostelry, and doing the words for illuminated manuscripts. Assuming I could have remained fat (regular Wild Boar Nights) and un-psychic and not prone to visions, that might have ended reasonably well. Today, there’s a run-down ancient church somewhere, protected by the National Trust, where tourists gasp as they look through glass at my bones in an ancient stone casket.
Having not quite learned my lesson (at what we might as well call soul level) about the link between speaking out and dying badly, I might then have gone into the metal business, melting down base metals to make letters for the new-fangled technology of printing. I might have launched courses in Print Media Marketing For Playwrights, or I might have handled the print side for some flamboyant entrepreneur with a taste for nailing his demands to church doors – or I might have decided that the play’s the thing, and written a few. Today, collectors bid by telephone at hushed auctions of the few remaining original printings of my work. There’s a flaw in a lower-case ‘d’ that is taken to prove authenticity.
Watch Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) for an entertaining play (sorry) on the theme of misattribution. After all that, I would have died young after drinking water from the wrong standpipe in Victorian London, and then I would have sat in a trench looking at barbed wire and writing a letter home to express a truth hard-found– a letter never sent. They didn’t all survive (or not survive) to be remembered. Kipling, among so many others, lost a son. A generation represented in tragedy by poetry. Wilfred Owen.
Animals in captivity. Born once more into the second half of another century of war, I would have absorbed lessons about stasis, inertia, peace in the form of war never quite declared and only fought by proxy. A form of peace represented in a triangulation of prose, at this end of Europe, between, say, Iris Murdoch, Samuel Beckett, Alistair MacLean and maybe Margaret Drabble (discuss). There’s a poem I read once, in a magazine, and have never found again. It might have been called Television War and it might have begun “We died for you at Hue, flamed to death in Sinai sand...” Maybe it's well known. Wish I could find it again.
I would have watched the beginnings of what we now call new technology and the dissolution of the great-power balance. I might have shaken my head to see once again the rising of fundamentalism…
And now here we are. Now this. All those years and all those emotions and all those passionate beliefs, all that pain and love and hunger and fulfilment, and the sun is about to break through the clouds on a bright grey morning in the south-west corner of the island where I – I and my predecessors, if we’re all so madly rational now that we’re uncomfortable with that riff on reincarnation – lived it all. What now?
Spain beat Iran. Last night I sat down in front of the television and took some notes. Here is the wisdom of our time, as gathered in a quick surf through Freeview.
TripAdvisor is as easy as dates, deals, done … Nivea Men gives me protection from dry skin … Lending Stream streams loans … Giffgaff is the mobile network run by me … Pampers is grateful to midwives … I could get ready to unleash Summer by making a Malibu-based cocktail … I could find ten grams of protein in one delicious Nature Valley bar … the Evans family now shops at Aldi.
Not forgetting the football, of course. Any nation whose fans can sustain that much noise through a match can’t be all bad. We should drop the stage-managed handshakes and play more ballgames. Elsewhere on television, two men were arguing with each other over something one of them had said to somebody else’s girlfriend; young men in swimming gear were picking partners from a group of young women in bikinis; Ed Harris was in deep water (The Abyss, 1989); the NCIS team was losing a case to the FBI; there was a trailer for Grimm, which seems to be a show about young people who look briefly like monsters when they’re taken by surprise.
Nail that lot to the door of a church and hope for a reaction.
Oh, take me back.
No. Turns out somebody’s done some research: children who take smartphones into the classroom are more likely to be distracted from learning than children who don’t. Leaving aside the odd fact that we need research to tell us this – as if just knowing something isn’t good enough any more – the question arises: what do we do about it?
Hello, Mr Chips. We talk about it. The phrase “We must make sure” sends actually doing anything right to the back of the class. “We” includes everybody who thinks children are at school to learn, plus everybody who thinks children have a right to hold onto their smartphones, plus everybody else except convicted paedophiles and authority figures, whose motives are always regarded as suspect. As for “must”, the active verb somehow attaches to the “We” but not to the person speaking.
And “make sure” mandates a long studio discussion or series of meetings. “Make sure” articulates a belief in collective decision-making that somehow inhibits individual initiatives. We all have to agree first, ha ha. Do not confiscate children’s smartphones until we’ve had a discussion; do not stop discussing until we’re all in agreement. Ha ha. I went back to the radio after an hour and they were still talking about it. Very realistic. They were also talking about a UK-government scheme for subsidised nursery care: the government is trumpeting its success; the nurseries are appealing for “donations” from parents because they can’t get enough official money to stay in business.
Hi, Coach Carter. Also very realistic. But it's the willingness to learn, how that is sparked, that really matters, right? Not the technology. About the only contemporary depiction of a classroom in which the children – young adults; not sure how old they are – seem to be consenting to learn is the one in Twilight (2008), in which Edward does seem to have retained some knowledge after all those years of looking at slides under microscopes. And maybe the one in The Blind Side (2009), and…
…so that’s my argument undermined. I don’t know, maybe there’s some wisdom in this tendency to discuss before/rather than acting. Maybe we should all just remain totally still, resisting any change to the status quo while talking up the action we're not taking. Something happened about Brexit last night, a vote I think, and then Trump went and signed something, and that kept the news media busy while the rest of us got on with watching the football. Iran was playing Spain, I know I mentioned this above, but the sight of a lot of people jumping up and down and shouting, waving Iranian flags, blowing plastic trumpets, their faces painted in Iran’s colours …
Oh, yeah, Freedom Writers. I don’t watch football, except to the extent that I do seem to be watching it now, but the sight of that crowd last night (I guess it’s obvious that I’m writing this on Thursday) went a long way towards normalising relations between Iran and my living room – using “my living room” in the sense that political commentators use “Downing Street” to refer to the British government. Today, “my living room” means me. I felt for those Iranians. If I’m ever afflicted by megalomania in my later years, I hope I remember to send a football team rather than call for sanctions.