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My Favourite Planet > Blogs > Edwin Drood's Column > September 2014
back Edwin Drood's Column
9 September 2014
Goodbye, bright things
In which Edwin considers whether we are, indeed, at the end of history,
though not as Frances Fukuyama intended, and whether the world is,
indeed, becoming flat, though not quite as Thomas Friedman envisaged.

Goodbye, bright things at the Mysterious Edwin Drood's Column
I had been warned. “You’ll find it rather changed,” they said. “We’d really like to have your ‘take’ on that, Edwin. It’s not the place you remember.” My friends were right. I stood in the quiet glade among the rowan, mountain birch and crab-apple trees and my mouth hung open in a silent scream. At first I had noticed nothing in particular. Everything seemed much as normal: the birdsong, the silence, the laughter of the brook and the deep gurgle of water from the stone-lined leat as it bubbled in beneath the flagstone sill of the little, stone-walled shrine to fill the shallow, sandy pool under the overhanging ferns and lichen, just as it always had. Then, upon coming closer to the narrow opening of the sacred well I began to notice rather more “offerings” than used to be there: many more, many, many, many more.

But where was I, and how did I get there? Despite my preference for pointing Miranda’s nose southwards each summer and following her long bonnet into the uplands of the Auvergne or the plains of Gascony, sometimes I feel the need to drench my Celtic self in the moist mists of my homeland and also take Miranda, my beloved Alvis, back to her own ancient haunts. Thus it was that this summer’s vacation took the two of us into the West. Miranda was to visit a specialist in retro-modification in Gloucester. I was to hire a small hatchback and head for the Black Mountains of South Wales, one of my childhood stomping grounds.

I stayed with friends near Crickhowell and over breakfast chanced to mention the little church in the hills that had so captivated me as a boy and the mysterious shrine that lay in a tight bend of the narrow road leading to it. They knew the church well and told me that I would find everything as it was, if not even more so. But when I mentioned the shrine nearby, their faces fell and they looked almost nervous, as if I’d mentioned something faintly unpleasant, something sickly and foul. And so it came about, a few hours later, that I stood once more in the place that had once so charmed me, reeling in shock.

Where once in my childhood there had been perhaps a silver coin or two on the little stone ledge along the side wall, or stacked neatly in the niche at the back, next to the tiny silver statuette of the virgin (long since removed by tomb raiders in the 70s), now there was a teeming techno-mass of Jim-crack gadgetry, gimmickry, cheap plastic junk, quasi-religious symbols, offbeat cultural references, odds and bits of anthropomorphic woven cloth and stuffing, wicker dream catchers, weird harvest dolls and broken toys, teddy bears’ eyes and lumps of glass, stones from distant beaches, tightly rolled up bank notes from vanished currencies, visiting cards, phone cards, video club cards, playing cards, tarot cards, all folded up and stuffed into every nook, every cranny, every fissure in the dripping walls.

Maybe I could have dealt with this, but not with what I saw next as I stepped back a bit. The trees had all been mutilated, slashed and pierced. Coins of countless nations and denominations had been hammered deeply, edgeways, into every trunk and limb. And not just coins, but nails and bottle tops, ring-pulls, Barbie legs, shards of pickle jars, chicken wishbones, animal teeth, chess men, dental appliances, drill bits, screwdrivers, Lego bricks, cogs and wheels, sprockets and pulleys, little souvenir knives from Solingen … on and on it went, from tree to tree, an endless almanac of pain: cuts, incisions, carvings, gouges, rips and trenches. And hanging from every branch and twig were tattered emblems and threadbare mascots, limbless dolls, eyeless dogs, key chains and silly dangling dice, cheap necklaces, Indian baubles, digital wrist watches, unicorns twisted from silver paper, ribbons, skimpy underwear, even tampons, all along the pathway back to the track. Had I wandered onto the film set for a Blair Witch Project sequel? Or had I been transported back to the Dark Ages? Far worse, for the Dark Ages had been transported to me, to all of us ... because that’s where we live now.

These are not only the days of lasers in the jungle; these are also the days of beheaded journalists, disappearing airliners, mysteriously collapsing towers and doll’s heads hammered into tree trunks. Our flat earth is not economically flat, nor flat in equality of opportunity and access to markets. Our flat world is the flatness that was before Copernicus and Galileo, it is the flat, bleak, low-browed, soggy fenland of superstition and suspicion of all things that require the falcon-grasp of reason, of those who are quick to judge but somehow incapable of judgement. It is the arid, wind-eroded prairie of gun-toting, tin-foil hat-wearing, chem-trail conspiracists; it is the featureless estuary of race supremacists whose only claim to superiority is the uniform cheesiness of their skins and the dumb belligerence of their bumper stickers.

And as we gradually run out of both material and intellectual resources, as our beliefs and structures are eroded by the barbarian pressures of incivility and the new illiteracy of choice, we will learn that the lump in the highway to hell we just drove over was the road-kill of ourselves, the end of history. Not the end of history in the victorious sense of a triumph of democracy by default. Not the end of history in the sense that the western economic and political model became the last man standing after a punishing war of systems, but the end of history in the sense that after our few brief generations of twilight, no one will even bother to record anything: history will simply be too grim to recount, too mindless, too violent and too mentally insulting for anyone to put in the effort required to write it down in all the horrific banality of its evil.

With bearded maniacs whose skulls are filled with maggots on one side of the planet, and vacuous touchy-feely sensationalists with heads full of mindless media on the other, with the new proponents of black magic (in mumbo jumbo we trust) and paranoia at one end of the world and a capitulating class of chinless wonders at the other, it is of little surprise that once proud servants of civil society, told all too often that they are white, male, ideologically dead, and only capable of prevarication or procrastination, are ready to turn the lights out and leave the key under the mat if it only means that people will stop criticising them for that which they can never be … in touch with the ‘national mood’. But these same men were once the Lucky Jims of their era. They were a hope, a beacon. They had beliefs and sold them for power. Nothing survives that. I am suspicious of all those who seek office. Let a man or woman be drafted kicking and screaming into politics and I’ll not doubt their motives. But otherwise …

How I miss those bright, good things of day: cottages with the back door open; children who knew their neighbourhoods because they were actually allowed to go outside; doctors who did house calls; policemen who knew the good as well as the bad apples on their own daily beat; real wool pullovers; bread that didn’t contain twenty different additives; books that weren’t written with an eye on the box office; tomatoes that you could taste; TV you could watch without feeling ashamed of your fellows; long attention spans; chalk and talk; teachers who were respected because education was respected. The list is long and I am weary of it. “Light thickens and the crow makes wing to the rooky wood.” Good on him. So should I.

© Edwin Drood, September 2014

Photo: © David John.
Edwin Drood's Column, the blog by The Mysterious Edwin Drood,

at My Favourite Planet Blogs.

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