20 April: the gatekeeper

Before the UK Power Networks stands a gatekeeper. To this gatekeeper comes a man from the city and requests dialogue with the UK Powernetworks, for he has this buzzing in his flat which was certainly coming from a faulty substation in the Montford Place substation and was stopping him from sleeping nights. But the gatekeeper explained that dialogue was almost certainly imposssible with anyone in authority. The only people he could put the man from the city through to were the PR people. Even the man from the city knew that this was a waste of time. The gatekeeper explained that a scout could be sent out to the substation but that the scout had only limited authority and could only penetrate the outer wall of the substation and had no real competence to examine the problem. For that an engineer would be required and because of Coronavirus engineers were not available. The man from the city asked whether after Coronavirus an engineer would be able to come and repair the problem. The gatekeeper said that enginners never showed themselves. Why, he himself had only ever once seen a real engineer and that was through a keyhole and it wasn’t even sure it was a real engineer, it could have been a mere scout. The man from the city continued to ask favours of the doorkeeper but the doorkeeper continued to guard the door. This was only the first doorkeeper. After him the next gatekeeper was twice as strong and after him there was another one even more formidable, so there could be no hope of getting through to where the engineers were. After  a long time the man from the city grew weary. The light in his eyes dimmed and he was reaching his end. He gathered up all his strength to ask a final question. But you are insatiable, said the gatekeeper. what do you want to know now? With his final breath the man from the city mumbled: How is it that in all this time I am the only one who has tried to gain access through the gate to the UK Powernetworks? The gate keeper recognized the man was breathing his final breath and explained to him: No-one else could be granted access through this gate for it was intended for you and you only. I am now going to close it?

Yes, I have problems getting through to UK Power Networks to fix the noise that is stopping me sleeping every night. I feel I understand Kafka more and more every day.









April 18: friend or foe?

As I am walking around the streets and I come upon a pedestrian walking towards me there ensues a complex negotiation. Am I friend or foe, or maybe both? We are like medieval travellers on the path through Sherwood Forest. I could be one of the Sherrif of Nottingham’s men, one of those so-called Norman foot-soldiers with their functional, egg-shaped helmuts, or I could be Will Scarlet. The hips shuffle the centre of gravity away from my trajectory; I do like wise. We are like two lizards on a wall with our parallelogramic shiftings; or else like pieces on a chessboard. Our eyes register foe, foe first, then one of us remembers to smile, or if one of us is a mask-wearer, nod, accepting our fraternity faced with all the uncertain rejigs that are going on around us. We are suddenly on a chessboard but unsure of our powers. We are cribbed.

Headphones don’t help, you know. People under headphones think they are as able as us, but they are oblivious. In the supermarket on their phones they skate around. It is as if they have never heard of this new chessboard we have to go around on. I’m doing the Rook. That woman’s doing the Knight. Why is this guy passing Go?


April 12: the strange rise of christianity

Easter sunday.The key day in the Christian calender. On the Friday before his death Jesus had shared a supper with his followers urging them to eat his body and drink his blood. He is later crucified on a cross to save the lives or souls of the rest of humanity. This vestige of cannibalism, the weird fetichisation of suffering, human sacrifice and the bizarre idea that one man’s death could stand in for the salvation of millions started to gain momentum through the political act of Emperor Constantine when he made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. But how did this barbaric assemblage of superstition and horrific atavism gain traction and take over the world? And why do people who normally wouldn’t say boo to a goose remain in its thrall?

Happy Easter.


April 10: endogamy, exogamy and me

Endogamy is the practice of marrying or associating with members of your own clan or social group. Exogamy is that of marrying or associating with those of exterior clans, groups, races etc. We are more exogamous than we used to be, but perhaps not as much as we think. When I try and situate myself within this spectrum it is difficult to know whether the partners or close friends I have associated with in the past have attracted you to them by some elements that recall myself and my own clan, even though they may have elements that are clearly alien (race, colour, social class). Equally, life pulls you away from your home clan. You may go away to study and never return. Over the years the notion of home gradually disolves. Moreover, your home clan may in itself be a complex uncentred atom, more electron than neucleus. It might also be that you find extraneous elements in the other that refer you to yourself but may be peripheral to other viewers, elements to do with those modern things like common tastes and outlooks. Or, and this may well be the case for me, it may be that it was never you making the choice in the first place, but the other.



April 8: spy wednesday

I heard the term Spy Wednesday for the first time this week. It is today, the Wednesday of Holy week, and refers to the underhand apostleship of Judas, spying on Christ before his eventual betrayal on Good Friday. First usage, as far as I can make out, 15th Century.

Judas is a peculiarly modern figure. Dante has him in hell. The New Testament has him punished in this life and the next for his act. And yet, as Thomas de Quincey amongst many others pointed out, Judas’ betrayal is part of God’s plan. Without it, the great process of our so-called salvation would not unfold. He is, then, pivotal to the necessary crucifixion of Jesus, which opens up the gates of the kingdom of heaven to us all. The so-called lost gospel of Judas, written perhaps in the first century AD, makes this connection explicit. Judas is an active participant in god’s plan. With or without his own agency. So should Judas not be saved? Indeed sanctified or beatified? His understanding was greater than Peter’s, who blunders through the New Testament constantly goofing and getting hold of the wrong end of the stick: sinking on the Lake of Galilee; misunderstanding the Transfiguration; denying Jesus three times in the Garden of Gethsemane. Actually, Judas is a perfect protagonist for peoplearerubbish. Maybe not so rubbish after all.


April 5: on being nicholas witchell

It can’t be easy being Nicholas Witchell. His colleagues at the BBC have now taken to calling him ‘Nick’ in solidarity. You know Nick. He is the BBC’s Royal correspondant. He has the worst job on the network. He has to say things like speaking from Windsor, Her Majesty the Queen clearly expressed her solidarity with the nurses and doctors working in this crisis and with all key workers throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. She further expressed her confidence in the British people pulling together at this difficult time as they have so many times in its long and glorious history. All of this he has to utter without a hint of irony, without cracking a smile, without ever seeming to want to question a morsel of the statement. A few years ago Prince Charles was caught on microphone saying to his children don’t look, there’s that awful man. He was refering to Nicholas Witchell. Since then, we can all empathise with Nick. He is living and working under the shadow of the axe. At the BBC colleagues must pat him extensively on the back in deepest sympathy. Who knows? Maybe he’s coming up for retirement and thinks I’ll just get through till then, nobody’s going to make me War correspondant now; I won’t get to wear the hi-viz press jacket. Or maybe  – who knows? – just maybe he likes it, being Royal correspondant. In which case, good luck to you, Nicholas Witchell. Containing all that stuff. In these difficult times, well done, Nick.


April 4: new bedfellows

My neighbour Tom, a congenial, intelligent and civilized man, took to talking very loudly in his kitchen from 8 in the evening to 2 in the morning. He also produced this schoolboy giggle. We go to bed early. It was infuriating. Tom’s kitchen shares a wall with our corridor and bedroom, so it was particularly irksome. Tom has recently started dating a new woman. I had never noticed that ridiculous teenage giggle in him, but, I thought, maybe it had been there all along. Love, we said and shook our heads distastefully. Well, it may be love, but that’s no excuse to inflict it on others. And his girlfriend must have Bob Monkhouses’s joke book to hand to elicit the medley of schoolboy snickerings that flow through into our bedroom a-nights. I raised the issue with Tom. He seemed bemused. He was an early sleeper himself mostly, he said. Don’t think so, I thought. The next night it started again. By eleven o’clock I was knocking on the party-wall. He still didn’t heed. I knocked again, louder this time. Stil nothing. Well, this is willfull insolence. I got up, pulled my pants on, went outside. This is one in the morning. In his kitchen all is dark. He is talking at the top of his voice in the dark! I hammer on the door. Tom arrives  from behind the front door stage right. The kitchen is stage left. It isn’t Tom. The yapping is still going on. It’s my upstairs neighbour. I go up and knock on his door. The second I do it the giggles and the chat stop, though he doesn’t open the door. This story will run all coronavirus season, as will many other stories of neighbourly dialogue. Sorry Tom. Here is some mixed fruit to make amends.