Saturday, 26 March 2016

The Long and Winding Road.

My first ever luxury spa break coincides with the terror attacks in Brussels. As I zoom up the MI to Leicestershire to rendez-vous with my mother (it's her treat) the music I’m listening to at full blast in the car is interspersed with distressing radio reports about the carnage in Belgium. We were in the city last summer so it’s still fresh in my mind, but anyone with even half an imagination is able to conjure an image of an airport departures lounge after a suicide bomb has gone off. 

I don’t need even half an imagination, however, because the scene is graphically described for me - for all of us - on the radio, in newspapers, and later on the television news, as ever, and ad infinitum. I suppose we don't have to listen to it, or watch it, or read it, if we don't want to, it's our choice. The news-maker and news-consumer can't exist one without the other, it cuts both ways. 

Why is our reaction to tragedy to pore over it? We all do it. Flicking through a newspaper my eye is invariably pulled to the death and disaster stories: the man who murdered his beautiful musician wife; the family of five who drowned together when their car slid backwards down a jetty (maybe that one really is an unimaginable horror, I struggled to read more than a line or two of that). Often I don’t get very far into the story before having to move on and turn the page because it’s too distressing, but still, these are the ones I’m drawn to. Why?

Because it’s about counting our blessings, our near-misses, and our might-have-beens. It’s about thinking: well at least that wasn’t me and mine, not this time, and feeling that flood of relief. And this, in part, is because modern life doesn’t prepare us for death and disaster in the way it used to for generations gone by. Death is no longer laid out in front of us in front parlours, scrubbed clean to be scrutinised. I've only seen one dead body up close: my grandfather's, and that's because I asked to see him (I wanted to put a flower in the coffin with him). Most of us just don’t see it. Most of the time we’re able to push it to the back of our minds, always trying to be normal, to carry on, to pretend it's not there. We go to work, we buy a Starbucks on the way in, we have a laugh with a colleague by the water-cooler, we invite family round for Easter and we're grateful it wasn’t us in that airport departures lounge, or on that tube train, and that we're fortunate enough to have a pay cheque to cash at the end of the month.

But disaster shadows us all, all the time. On the motorway speeding in the fast lane, one crazy jerk of the wheel could mark the endgame. Some actively seek out those risky moments, young men in particular, for the rare thrill, the near-death high: climbing a high cliff, base-jumping from a tall building, wing-suit soaring down the sheer side of a mountain. Perhaps they risk everything because they think they’re invincible, that disaster can’t touch them, that they have a guardian angel watching over them? Or perhaps they need to be near danger to feel alive? Middle One was obsessed with Philippe Petit for a while, the man on wire guy, he even learnt to slack line on the common in homage to him, and Petit is a perfect example of someone who needs (needed?) to live on the edge, literally, in order to feel something. 

Most people don’t need that. We live safe comfortable lives, we have family and friends and work and music and books and television to entertain us, and we have the vicarious grief and pain of others to gaze upon in the news. Terrible tragedy does serve a terrible purpose: it reminds us how lucky we are, and that our remaining time is precious.

Songs of Praise.

On the way north in the car I was listening to a CD my younger brother made for me: my life so far, in music. Touchingly he remembered all sorts of things I'd forgotten about in the correct chronological order, going back to music I liked as a child, some of which apparently had quite an effect on him. Embarrassing things, like Telephone Man by Meri Wilson (My brother: "I listened to it again and do you realise what that's about? Me: "Er, yes, I do, now,") then Abba, Carpenters, Elton John (dancing to Crocodile Rock in that basemen in Vancouver with my best friend, Stacey Gates), on to The Beatles, of course, and then all the 80s stuff I'd erased from my mind (Quiet Life by Japan) plus the usual: Stones, Kinks, Bowie, Roxy Music, John Lennon, Fleetwood Mac, and some one-offs I never tire of, like Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me) by Cockney Rebel, which would be one of my desert island discs for sure, even some of my soppy guilty pleasures (Roberta Flack, Killing Me Softly). It was a sweet gift because music has such power to transport us back to a time and place like nothing else, except perhaps for smell. 

The moment we hear the opening bars of that something we’re there in the moment again, with that boyfriend, (Lay Lady Lay, Bob Dylan) or that mate, in her bedroom, getting ready for the school disco (Kids in America, Kim Wilde). We all have that, and we will always have that, until our particular endgame comes to claim us.

As I pulled off the motorway at the exit for the spa hotel, my brother’s CD was just finishing. The journey had taken longer than I thought it would, but at last the sat nav said there were only a few more miles to go. Suddenly there was a sign up ahead: is this it? I thought. Weirdly the very last track on my brother's compilation was beginning as that journey was ending: George Harrison's My Sweet Lord

Love E x


P.S. Easter. I might not believe in God but I do have faith in people, and always will have, even in a world in which we blow each other up in the name of religion. And Eldest is home. So bring on the celebrations, slaughter the fatted calf for the return of a dearly beloved boy, and have a heavenly one yourself. We're going to France for a few days with friends who have a house there, but I'll be back again soon, right here. Happy Easter.

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