Break Day 4

Another day off to allow my injured little toe to recover its poise. The colour has subsided from vermillion to a delicate pink and the pain has lowered to my gloomy awareness that there is still some way to go. I want the toe to recover but not so much as I forfeit whatever sympathy I can squeeze from Jane as I limp along.

I gave her a party at Christ Church last night because she has an important birthday shortly. I asked only our local friends who, in the split second when you see them coming, cause your heart to rise up rather than fall down. You know exactly what I mean: it’s quite involuntary.

I told guests that the only time I fall out violently with my beloved is when we are driving or, to be accurate, when I am driving and Jane is the back seat passenger. Before the satnav was invented we occasionally came to blows as Jane has a high regard for her map reading skills and she raps out curious instructions at random with all the insistence of a speaking clock. When the satnav appeared I thought that this device would herald harmony…. dream on, because all that happened was the transference of her demands from me to the satnav!

“What a stupid route”, she would snarl, “the little man yammering away inside this thing is an idiot. Any fool with half a brain must know we should be on the A32, not the M4,” and on she would rant. Then I discovered to my astonishment that she was studying a second satnav, the first is built into the car, the other is on her mobile phone and, what’s more, there’s a map spread across her knee. Of course they were all at odds with one another and apparently each suggested direction varied diametrically as to where we hoped to get to!

The last time we traveled north she stopped and reversed four times in the first ten miles at the suggestions of the different satnavs and maps.

“Why are you doing this?” I asked her quietly.

“Why are you shouting?”

“It’s not me, Darling, it’s the poor people shouting about your parenthood in the cars behind!”

The party was a joyous celebration. Our youngest daughter Milly gave a passionate speech about her Mum, far too personal to detail here but it was a heart warming occasion. We don’t have enough parties and celebrations nowadays and we need a break from wakes and funerals and the memorial services that punctuate our lives.

All notable events should be punctuated with parties, any excuse will do. They don’t have to be lavish, just get lots of your loving friends together and encourage them to have a good time, with lots of happy talk and lots of laughter, for, as Hilaire Beloc tells us: “There’s naught worth the wear of living but laughter and the love of friends.”

A friend told me that when he was about go be married he knew nothing of the birds and the bees (half a century is a long time ago and many of us were innocents then!) and so he searched for a suitable tome that might teach them the basics. He found one in a second hand book shop called:

“How to Hug”.

It wasn’t until he got home he found he had bought volume five of the Encyclopaedia Britannica.


Jekyll and Hyde

I read The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by genius Robert Louis Stevenson the other day. Although I first read it many years ago, only now do I see how the book packs such a potent message. Of course, Stevenson came from my hometown of Edinburgh.

It’s a fascinating book. Dr Jekyll comes to the conclusion he is “an incongruous compound of good and evil.” He becomes convinced that his bad nature is restraining his good one, and finds that his bad side prevents him from following through his good intentions. So he concocts a potion that will separate his two selves. Believing his good nature will be allowed to shine, free from the taint of wickedness, Jekyll thinks he will be able to achieve his goals.

The Darkness Within

However, one night Jekyll drinks his potion and discovers his evil nature is far more developed than he thought possible. He describes his evil self thus:

“I knew myself, at the first breath of this new life to be more wicked, tenfold more wicked, sold a slave to my original evil; and the thought, in that moment, braced and delighted me like wine…. (Edward Hyde’s) every act and thought centred on self.”

As his name suggests, Edward Hyde is “hidden”. He only thinks of his own pleasure and desires; and he couldn’t care less whom he hurts to gratify his needs. He will kill if someone is in his way.

Stevenson is saying that even the best people try to hide – from others as well as themselves – the evil that is within. Hyde’s self-absorption and his regard for his own interests are total.

Self-aggrandisement is the cornerstone of so much of the misery in this world: it’s the reason why the rich seldom care for the plight of the poor; it’s the reason for so much of the violence and destruction in the world; and it’s at the heart of most family misery and break-ups, or rows at work. We often hide from ourselves our self-centred capacity for evil acts but situations arise as a “potion” and out they come.

Once Jekyll understands Hyde’s capacity for evil, he decides to clamp down on this frightful self-centredness and pride at the core of his being. In other words he gets “God” and so he solemnly resolves not to take the potion anymore. He devotes himself to charity and good works, in part to atone for the sins of his past and also to smother his sinfulness with acts of kindness and charity.

One day, while sitting on a bench in London’s Regent’s Park, he starts to brood about all the good he is doing and how he is a much better man – despite Edward Hyde – than the vast majority of people.

“I resolved in my future conduct to redeem the past; and I can say with honesty that my resolve was fruitful of some good…. And then I smiled, comparing myself with other men, comparing my active goodwill with the lazy cruelty of their neglect… And at the very moment of that vain-glorious thought, a qualm came over me, a hideous nausea and the most dreadful shuddering…. I looked down… I was once more Edward Hyde”.

This is a ghastly turn of events. For the first time Jekyll becomes Hyde without the potion. In despair, Jekyll kills himself.

What happened? Jekyll knows he is a sinner and he tries to cover up his sins with a vast heap of good works. Yet his efforts never shrink his pride and selfishness, quite the reverse. They lead him to feel superior, self-righteous and proud and – Bang! – Jekyll becomes Hyde again, not in spite of his goodness but because of his goodness.

What a plot.

Strange World

Some 50 years ago, a cult leader by the name of Jim Jones managed to persuade over 900 of his “followers” to commit suicide by drinking cyanide in Guyana in the hope of a better life after death.

In the 1930s, Hitler managed to persuade the bulk of the very sophisticated German people to elect him; then he persuaded the majority to accept that the Jews, the mentally ill, homosexuals and gypsies were “less than fully human”, and that it was okay to kill them then steal their money and assets. Oh yes, and he wanted more “living space” for the German people. Hitler’s war ended up by killing 62 million – and that includes the 32 million folk accounted for in Stalin’s Russia.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, we in the UK persuaded ourselves – churches too – that negroes from Africa were less than fully human, and that is was okay to treat them as assets to be bought and sold, and killed at will. We also believed, until the myth unravelled in the trenches of the First World War, that we the British were morally superior to everyone else on the planet.

There is an apocryphal story of a British ambassador who, just before the First World War, wanted to know from the Buckingham Palace protocol unit who would take precedence at a dinner: he or the Dali Lama? The reply snapped back, “The Dali Lama thinks he’s God: you take precedence.” The point is this is said to be true!

So it appears that mankind can believe in more or less anything – including sun, ancestor and animal worship, and money, sex and golf worship. However far-fetched the proposition may be, given the right circumstances and often under the influence of a charismatic leader, people will fall into line.

Well you may think that things are different today, that we are cleverer and wiser, and that we have learned from the mistakes of the past. Just stop for a moment. What evidence is there that this is true? Our contemporary advertising industry thrives on the improbable proposition that however unpromising the raw material, if Joe or Mary Soap wears this scent or drives that car, or carries that case or handbag, they will transform from frogs into princes and become irresistible to anyone of the opposite sex. And since the dawn of time, mankind has tried to validate the experiment that money, sex and power will bring happiness. In any other scientific field, this experiment would have been scrapped long since, but no: as if riding on a tight loop, mankind keeps on trying!

Well many of you may think that the beliefs of the religious communities are all equally daft, and on the same level as the “tooth fairy” of childhood. Well of course that’s a matter of opinion but some strange quirks catch the eye.

In 1999, the English football manager Glen Hoddle announced that he believed in a rather peculiar theory of “reincarnation” and that today’s physically handicapped people are paying for the sins of past generations. These arresting remarks generated an inevitable firestorm of criticism. The then prime minister, Tony Blair, said that Hoddle’s views were so disgusting he should resign as football manager, and soon Hoddle was forced from his job.

Then in 2009, the bones of St Therese of Lisieux came to London at the invitation of the Catholic Church. Thousands of the faithful were able to file past these relics for a fee. I presume the idea – apart from making money – was that some of the sanctity of the saint would rub off on the viewer.

Matthew Parris noted that Prime Minister Blair was queuing. Now Parris and I think that the saintly bones are just bones and that treating them as a sort of good luck charm is just as bizarre – if not as offensive – as Glen Hoddle’s beliefs.

I am reminded of the Yorkshire saying, “There’s now’t so queer as folk!”



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