Oblivion and all that

It came to me in a flash that when I die, the whole world will come to an end; not just for me, but for everyone in it, as far as I’m concerned.  Now, I’m not a great one for philosophical thinking: existentialism, for me, might as well not… er, well… exist, but I do find it slightly comforting to know that the whole universe can only exist for as long as I am in it.  When I cease to be, everything ceases to be.  Unfortunately, from the same view point, it will never have been in the first placeso, not much point in keeping backups of everything on the computer is there?

If this all seems uncomfortably close to the I can’t see you, therefore you can’t see me view of a child playing Hide and Seek, well, that is entirely consistent with everything that constitutes me and my life.  I presume it is part of the human condition that we all feel the need to make plans for when we are no longer here, but I think that I might just have found a way out of it.  Planning has never been a strong point for me.  I tend to either plan every last ounce of enjoyment out of an enterprise or get the day wrong and find myself on a bus load of pensioners heading to Cleethorpes in the rain.  The lure of there being no point to it is quite a strong one.  I have, in the past, started to make all kinds of elaborate plans for my funeral, but now I realise that there is no reason to do so, because it will never happen!  (The italics are my own.)  I will not be able to hear ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ therefore it is not playing; never has and never will exist.  I might as well choose ‘Bye Bye Baby’ by the Bay City Rollers, which, when I do cease to exist, will provide a bonus for all of us.

Actually, thinking of all the things I will take with me: pain, starvation, the Taliban, Okra, is quite comforting.  Imagine a world with no Chicken McNuggets.  It will come, but I will not be able to imagine it.  As I look out of my office window I see a giant buddleia at the end of the garden and it is absolutely covered in butterflies.  Imagine a life without that.  Imagine a life without anything, including life.  Quite disturbing isn’t it?  Occasionally my mind digs itself such a trough and it can be difficult to get out of.  I do so now by thinking of my kids and my grandkids, and by remembering that for them life will go on long after I am no more (selfish buggers!)  Each of my grandchildren will carry something of me into the future: for one it is ginger hair, for one it is a fearsome curiosity, for one it is legs that would look more at home on a carthorse.  Maybe they will remember me, maybe they will not.  If they do, I hope it is with fondness and not every time they catch a whiff of urine.

Not that I am planning on going anywhere just yet – I must make that quite clear.  Whatever I may have lingering in the future that is waiting to pull the trigger, I am blissfully unaware of it at the moment.  I feel like one of those posh fridges that monitors everything you put into it, but has no idea that you dropped a rogue brussel sprout in December 2012: it knows that the milk has only a day or two left, that the salad tray is devoid of all except a multi-pack of Mars Bars, that you really should have put a lid on the tin of tuna you opened last Wednesday, but it does not have a clue about the lump of green goo that is slowly spreading through the drain plug.  If it did, it could tell you why you can never open the fridge without setting off the smoke alarm and why everything you ever eat tastes of mouldy brassica, but it wouldn’t have a clue of what to do about it.  I doubt that, ‘Get yourself some long plastic forceps and a pipette for sucking up goo’ is part of its vocabulary.  To be honest, as my only real experience of AI is through the Terminator films, I suspect that it is far more likely to disguise itself as a central heating boiler, seduce my wife and take up arms against me.  Perhaps there are some parts of the future that I will be happy to miss.

There are two main reasons why I am currently involved in this navel-gazing.  The first, and most obvious, is that I have just caught sight of the bloody thing in the bathroom mirror.  I’m sure it didn’t used to look like that!  It used to lay in the midst of an area of toned muscle and taut skin.  It now looks like a sink hole in the middle of a pink blancmange.  I would like to do something about it, but I fear that it might involve sit-ups and I cannot live with the sound that my back makes when I try to do that.  I’m pretty good at sit-downs, but not so good at getting-back-up-agains, unless I have something to hold onto.  I will just have to wear a vest and whitewash the mirror.  The second reason for the navel gazing?  Well, I have just spent a couple of days in the company of my grandkids and they are so full of life (an absolutely infuriating amount of it) that I have started to realise that I am not. I am left with a sense of inadequacy that I only otherwise feel when watching ‘Only Connect’.  Whatever I had that formerly passed for get-up-and-go, has pissed off with the au pair and left me with a mortgage I can no longer afford and a dog that farts whenever it moves.  I am not what I once was – although I’m not sure that I ever was – and I am not entirely happy with what I fear I might become, so the best thing I can do is to just be what I am now.  It’s not much, but when the lights go out, it won’t matter.  Meantime, I get the popcorn in, fuel up on the kind of fizzy drink that will bubble out of my ears if I run, laugh at the absurdity of it all and try not to worry.  There’s almost certainly nothing I can do about it now anyway…

Dog Years

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Photo by Lum3n.com on Pexels.com

If I was a Mayfly, I would be over 22,000 years old. That’s a sobering thought, isn’t it? When I think of all the things I have failed to do in my lifetime, just think how much I could have failed to achieve as an ancient insect.

My life, in reality being measured in human years, is currently in the throes of its sixty-first segment. I have carried out, to the best of my abilities, my biological imperative. I have raised my children, and they are currently raising their own. The world is a better place for having them in it.

What lies ahead for me now is confusion and dribbling; delivered-to-the-door microwaveable meals; daytime T.V., and a super-heated living room. My days of velcroed shoes and elasticated waistbands grow ever nearer.

Whatever our means of ingress, we are all destined to bob along on the flow of the Styx – although it is unlikely that the rest of us will form such a reliable, although transient, surfeit of food for the trout as our friend the Ephemeroptera. As difficult a concept as it is for me to grasp, I cannot help but feel that, for a Mayfly, eternity must seem like a very long time indeed when, even for an immortal being, it is still a lifetime. Unless boundless time, unlike this human-constructed finite time-scape in which we live, passes differently. I suppose that whilst the average human can expect to live for many thousands of times longer than the Mayfly, he/she will be dead for exactly the same amount of time e.g. forever.

Unless, of course, the Buddhists are correct. What if we do not die at all, but simply hang about for a while before coming back to Earth as something else? Who decides what, I wonder? With a planet loaded with a gazillion insects, all reincarnated from something else that has had to have a crack at something exceeding the twenty-four hour threshold, somebody has their work cut out.

And people claim to remember their previous lives, don’t they? What if their past life was as something else, would they still be able to recall? What if a kestrel was reincarnated as a mouse with the memory of what it was like to be a kestrel? Surely that would give the mouse something of an evolutionary edge, wouldn’t it? Fore-armed with the knowledge that it is probably not a great idea to widdle without restraint, out rodent friend may find that he is able to survive far beyond his allotted span. Consider a lion reincarnated as a wildebeest; an orca as a sealion; a shark as a sprat – the world could become a very different place. Imagine a human coming back as… anything really. Imagine a rhino that knows how to drive a tank; a tiger that knows how to fire a gun; a Mayfly that realises that, despite its many attractions, not mating might, all things considered, turn out to be the preferred option, longevity-wise. How big, I wonder, could a Mayfly get in twenty-two thousand years?

Actually, I have just answered my own question. A little research is, perhaps, the fastest way to destroy the thrust of an article such as this. However, the truth will out. It would appear that Mayflies, because of their limited lifespan, do not eat. They are, in fact, incapable of doing so due to ‘having no functional mouthparts’. They cannot eat. Twenty thousand years without a decent breakfast does not sound terribly appealing, does it? I get hungry if I miss my morning biscuit. Twenty thousand lifetimes without a single Hobnob – I think I’d probably just opt for Plan A and enjoy it while I could. It’s not so bad, is it? I’m guessing that, given the time available, Mayflies mate for life. They don’t have to worry about getting the kids out of the house after they finish Uni and, who knows, if they are lucky enough to be reincarnated, they might come back as a trout…

In a dog’s life
A year is really more like seven
And all too soon a canine
Will be chasing cars in doggie heaven
It seems to me
As we make our own few circles ’round the sun
We get it backwards
And our seven years go by like one

Dog Years – Rush

 

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

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Photo by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash

I am of an age when I wish for little from life other than it doesn’t end too soon. That it doesn’t end in pain and anguish. That I merely wake up one morning to discover that I haven’t actually woken up at all. The reality of mortality becomes ever more defined. The need to lay plans for what will happen after I have gone, somehow becomes more pressing. I have not yet started saving in order to ensure that my children do not have to cough up for the dubious pleasure of watching me transcend this mortal coil and ascend upon the wings of super-heated ether into the clouds, but I have started to make a few plans.

I would like balloons in the crem, although I know they won’t allow that. I would like to be carried in to Roy Harper – When An Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease which, I feel, strikes just the right note and, perhaps more importantly, gives the pallbearers adequate time to grapple me onto the conveyor belt and behind the curtain. When I told my best friend he said, ‘That’s all very well, but you haven’t played cricket in thirty years’ and that is all very true, but, you know, even a corpse can aspire. If you have never heard this song, I urge you not to wait until my funeral to break your duck. (Of course you’ll all be there.) It’s a wonderful song with a full-on brass band and the most poignant yet joyful lyric you will ever hear.

I intend to exit to Blue Oyster Cult – Don’t Fear the Reaper which, as well as being a great song is both apposite and strangely uplifting. (I did, originally, say that I wanted Deep Purple – Burn which my wife pointed out is neither.)

I have been to so many funerals where somebody who obviously did not know the deceased has been asked to read a sterile eulogy, that I am quite tempted to write my own before I go. I’ve even toyed with recording it myself, but I think it might be a little freaky, so I’ll have to let somebody else do it. But who? It is perhaps asking too much of a close family member and I don’t know anybody even vaguely famous. Nobody even wants to think that somebody older than themselves will be able to read their eulogy: everybody plans to live longer than everybody else of their own age. It will probably have to be the celebrant – I could always rehearse him/her I suppose. (I must make a note to book early.) The eulogy will not focus too much on my earthly achievements – that would be both immodest and very, very short – it will quietly gloss over my many shortcomings (for details of which, you will have to consult my wife and children) but will concentrate on my assorted foibles and peccadilloes – I am awash with those. They are, perhaps, more ‘sit’ than ‘com’, but there is something to work on. I’m sure there’s a laugh or two to find in there somewhere. It will be a mixture of navel-gazing, observation, obfuscation, waffle and downright exaggeration (ah, you see where I’m going?) and it will provide a short diversion from the maudlin task at hand.

I’m always unsure as to how I would like to be viewed by posterity. What would I like people to say about me in a hundred years time? ‘Doesn’t he look good for his age,’ probably. I hope my grandchildren remember me with the same kind of fondness with which I remember my own grandparents. I’d like them to chuckle when they think about me and agree that I was ‘an old bugger at times’. And if they have a bookful of embarrassing photographs of me to pass around afterwards – well, my capacity to blush will have long passed. And I hope that, as I will then be well past my centenary and ‘as sharp as a tack until the day he died’, it will be a jolly affair and that the memories I leave behind will all be fond ones. Thus passes the glory of the world…

I used to hate weddings – all those old dears poking me in the stomach and saying, ‘You’re next.’ But they stopped all that when I started doing the same to them at funerals. Gail Flynn

The Thinking Hat

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I have written before about not knowing what to write about – it’s what I write about when I don’t know what to write about. It happens surprisingly often. Most days I get home with pockets full of scraps of scribbled-on paper which, when laid out on my desk somehow coalesce into something coherent. Or at least as close to coherent as I ever get. I write pretty much every day and I write twice as much as I need. I have a computer full of ‘Just in case I can’t think of what to write about’ pieces and I do raid them every now and then. I could publish twice the number of blogs I actually do, but I do not do so for two very good reasons:
1. I realise that I already skate upon the perilously thin ice of boring you to death, and doing so on an even more regular basis could very well be terminal for both of us, and…
2. Well, it’s tempting fate isn’t it? I know my brain. The very second I let it into my little secret ‘Listen, we’re easily writing enough waffle to get us through six blogs a week. I think I’m going to go for it.’ It will seize like an outdoor padlock and no amount of WD40 will get it open again.

This is the state into which my cerebrum has currently descended. It does so maybe once a fortnight. It hitches up its drawers and lurches off into its dark corner, pulling the door tight behind it, where it rocks gently back and forth, sucking its thumb and screaming for silence – I hate silence. Sometimes I leave it alone, knowing that by tomorrow it will be back to its old self and spewing out more tripe than I know what to do with, but other times I fear that its hermit days might become permanent and I need to face it out.

Shaping up to the content of one’s own head is not always straightforward. For a start, if it doesn’t want to come out to play, it isn’t always easy to make it. Coffee will sometimes drag it out; chocolate or whisky (all three if it is being unusually intransigent) but flushing the bloody thing out into the open isn’t guaranteed to make it co-operate. Sometimes it sulks like a five-year old child, swallowing its Lego so that it can’t possibly eat broccoli, sometimes it just stares at the wall. And you have to be particularly careful about where the confrontation takes place. What happens inside your head can quite often spill out of your mouth, and that seldom looks good on the bus.

I’ve been writing for many years: sometimes moderately successfully, sometimes less so, but always writing. I was taught long ago that writer’s block does not exist and, although I know very well that it does, I adhere to this mantra. What I was taught to do was to write – it doesn’t matter what – that the very act of writing will spur the brain into action and, after a little cough to clear its throat, it will start to drip gold onto the paper. I know people who routinely throw away the first thousand words they write every day because they know it will be junk. There are days when I would willingly go through their bins. There are many days when the first thousand words I write are the only thousand words I write and, junk or no junk, they are kept for future reference. It’s a bit like being bored to death by a 0-0 draw, but keeping the game on the recorder just in case you somehow missed a goal, despite the fact that you know the final score.

Now, I must ask you to indulge me here, I am not prone to navel gazing: it has never really helped me and anyway, I can’t do it without a mirror these days. What I am currently gazing at is (are?) my finger nails. Don’t worry, I have not pulled them out in a fit of pique: they remain attached firmly to my digits. A little too firmly in fact. You see, I have a nail which routinely splits along its length. (Yes, I would love to know why.) It drives me mad, so I have taken to superglueing it together. And, yes, I know you are miles ahead of me, what I am currently looking at is a handful of glistening finger nails, attached to fingers with which I dare not pick up anything. I cannot decide what to do with them. I cannot, for instance, type into Google ‘What should I do with a handful of superglue?’ knowing that I will get no further than ‘W’… and I do not want to become any more firmly attached to the keyboard than I already am. I dare not run them under the tap, as I’m pretty certain that it will just set my fingers in such a manner that to separate them will mean that I have to succeed where Al Capone failed; by removing my own fingerprints. I have no idea of the depth of skin on a finger, but I’m pretty certain that set superglue goes deeper. Anyway, what I am currently doing is watching it as it dries and typing, as best I can, with my one unaffected pinkie.

Ah yes, and there is one more thing you need to know. I am wearing a hat. It is my thinking hat. It didn’t start off as my thinking hat, you understand. It started off as my hat. I have a head that is generally unsuited to titfers, but I found this one last year and I liked it: my wife didn’t object too strongly and only one of my children refused to be seen with me whilst I was wearing it. So I wore it. However, spring has now unfurled into summer and a much lighter hat has become de rigueur. My grey felt hat has taken up residence in my office and I have developed a habit of wearing it whenever I am searching for an idea. Due to the finger-issue I have been unable to remove it. I do not want to take it with me wherever I go, so, on my head it remains until my fingers have dried. Still, it’s not all bad. It has given me the germ of an idea…