Editor at Large
In the country of last things…
Lockdown time seems to enjoy playing tricks. Sometimes it doesn’t so much run, as flee. At others it didn’t so much slow down as stagnate. Which is to say memory concertinas.
You know. All that stuff about the things we can’t remember being the things we can’t forget.
We clutch at old sureties, as if we already knew it was going to come to this.
Hard to think now that time used to run in Mesopotamian seconds and minutes, in ancient Egyptian hours, in the midnight chime of Roman days. All of which are human systems, cobbled together by ancient civilizations to stop everything from happening at once.
Everything happening at once… Almost exactly where we find ourselves now.
Yesterday (which is to say my yesterday not yours) I found an old diary during an all too predictable lockdown decluttering session.
Written when I was a young man, its entries recall a time when women made my heart shatter rather than stop. A time when there was no tomorrow which, if you come to think about it, there isn’t. Ever.
They served to remind me that the past is measured out not in years but in memories. Not by the workings of a clock but by the tricks of the mind. Which is to say memory, the only thing that saves us from the lockdown abyss.
So the only lesson that this all too present bonebound me could possibly teach the vague young diarist who was once me is this; dreams don’t come true, they never did. They only exist to take us to places we would never otherwise go.
And yes, like I said, I found that old diary.
Do you ever feel like you’re on Mastermind and your specialist subject is you, yet you’re still going to lose?
Which may be the perfect question for this, our very own, age of endarkenment - one that finds us considering why what should have happened is happening to other people in other places.
The devil knows, I do not have the photographs, but it seems to me our times are crying out for fictions to be real in.
And here, a diary entry from the late 1980s directly contradicting that pipedream…
‘Went to see Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah. Struck by these words from a J.C.O in the Warsaw ghetto:
“After the war I drank, if you could lick my heart, it would poison you.”
And these, maybe Lanzmann’s own, “The truth kills the possibility of fiction, it makes fiction obscene,” resounded’.
And then, another diary, with this:
‘Outside the soldiers were still shooting at people but nobody was dying! And then it came to me; nobody was dying because the soldiers must be firing rubber bullets.
It all made beautiful sense, we may have been battered and bruised but we were not going to die.
Two hours later, the police took over and we all filed out to identify ourselves. Everybody was held in the square except the two of us whose passports declared us British citizens. We were escorted past an armoured car - gun telescoped on the square – and ushered in the direction of our hotel’.
My first impression on reaching the end of the street is the one I have still. Ahead of us was the ocean. The suddenly returning sun frying what little wind there is. The reflecting skin of the water suggesting beaten gold.
On its surface a blood coloured triangle of yacht is skating towards the horizon, where an oil tanker seemingly hangs in the air like an unanswered question.
We are today, doing what we were doing that day, searching for heroes.
The difference is, as these times have taught us we are looking in all the wrong places.