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Do you understand what I’m doing at the moment? I mean, beyond the material thing that I’ve given up my flat and am on the road living and working with people as required, being useful and moving on.
No, neither do I.
Except it seems to have something to do with living differently, with experiencing other people’s lives and hearing their perspective on mine. It seems that this is something important for me to do, it’s not a choice I came to lightly, it took me a long time sitting in a flat in Fulham wondering why things didn’t work well and hankering for a way to be doing more, having a variety of experiences and meet with more diverse groups of people. It’s one of those things that I can’t say I chose to do, it feels much more like it chose me.
I woke up this morning with paranoia, the idea that everyone hates me and thinks I’m just being a dick, spongeing off the goodwill of my friends and occasionally writing pompous self-indulgent stuff on the internet. I know that the cure for this is writing about it, talking about it, getting it out of my head, because that’s the place it comes from. It isn’t based in any real evidence – I am making it up. In fact, since I poked my head above the parapet and wrote something yesterday I’ve had several very friendly and loving messages enquiring into my well-being. If anyone does think that stuff, they’re not letting me know.
What is different (I hesitate to say, “not working”) about this current journey is that I’m being challenged to involve others in my life. If the people I visit don’t feel involved then it does become a bit like spongeing, it all feels one way, but I’m still not sure how to do it. I’ve always found this involvement, openness, personal connection, difficult. I’ve found it hard enough to identify in the first place – I thought I was doing it, I think I’m doing what’s required, and yet from time to time I find myself having a conversation that shows me that the other person doesn’t feel involved, they feel shut out and cut off. I don’t really know what to do about this except talk it around some more and see what other people think. It feels like it’s in my blind spot. What does it look like? How would I know that I was involving you more in my life? If I’m always telling you what I’m up to, what I’m thinking, what I want to do, how does that differ from self-obsession?
I wrote this sitting in an upstairs room in a pub in Bude, Cornwall. I sat and reflected that I was watching a little part of the world slowly die. I was at the Bude Jazz Festival which annually celebrates the music as it was being born just about a hundred years ago in and around New Orleans. It’s not the music that’s dying. That will carry on. It is immortalised in thousands of recordings already and even though there may only now be a relatively small number of musicians interested in keeping it going we’ve learned that all sorts of genres are much more hardy than their original proponents.
No, what’s dying here in front of me is a generation of British people, the oldest of whom may just remember hearing Mr Chamberlain on the wireless telling the world that we were now at war with Germany. The youngest of them didn’t see anything of the war except it’s aftermath, growing up with bomb sites, cities being rebuilt, rationing and parents who were tired, fed up but stoically carrying on despite living through a horribly violent patch of our history. They are the lucky ones. They have had perhaps the best of the welfare state and social progress and reform that happened here in the second half of the twentieth century. They sit in rows hearing renditions of the songs and tunes that they danced to as teenagers. They’re alive, kept going by the National Health Service, most of them with small but bearable pensions. Many of them are here as venerable couples, they’ve been together now for forty years (or more). They’ve all amassed stuff, stuff and more stuff. I doubt that many of them have an empty attic or garage. They may have let their cars go as they became less able to keep driving but the majority will have made their way here with room for others on the back seat. They’re all likely to have inherited something from their parents, property, or cash or just belongings but they’re less likely to leave anything behind for the next generation except funeral expenses. If they hve wills they’ve probaly passed things on to their grandchildren rather than their own kids.
They remember a gentler time. Do they long for it? Do they wish things could just go back the way that they were? What do they really think? About anything. They look like Daily Mail readers to me, but that probably says more about my prejudices than about them. They won’t be here much longer. Or perhaps they will.
Postscript 1: When I got up from scribbling in my notebook, the people sitting behind me said “You were writing a lot, what are you writing?” Gulp. I said “I’m writing a lot about uncivilisation at the moment about how society is de-evolving” They didn’t ask any more questions. No I don’t understand where the words came from either.
Postscript 2: What if they’ve done their job, that generation? They were part of a pattern that created the free thinking and doing of the sixties. They helped create an antidote to capitalism and now they’re dying off, taking the remnants of the old system with them. Some of them kept a counter-culture alive that had been around since the industrial revolution and made it a little more mainstream, a little easier for the rest of us to do something different. I guess “thank you” is what I’m trying to say