The long dark nights of the soul and using the dead.
We all have our little things about us. Things we do and things our friends know about and say don’t worry about it; they’re always doing that. Like everyone else, I’ve my own peculiar things I do and by now am reasonably relaxed about. Possibly the most disconcerting of my eccentricities, and I do seem to have a number of them, is to go into freeze mode.
I’m thinking about something and there’s a thought which is just a smidgen, a millimetre, the merest kiss away and just beyond my reach, and which I know I can just nearly put my fingertips on, so I concentrate on it as my hand slowly creeps towards it. It’s like that thing of feeling a sneeze coming on, so you pause everything, just to nurse it out, because somehow you’ll be really be pissed off if you can’t make it happen. Blink you bastard, blink is the usual way they snap me out of it.
I was at my desk, fingers paused over the keyboard and in full Cato in the freezer mode. I came out of it with a start, made a sudden transition from frozen mode to doing something and felt that stab in my lower back. Fuck, fuck and fuckety fuck. I’d done it again. Once every nine or ten years or so, I pull a muscle in my back and I knew straight away I’d done it again. Ahead of me I knew, lay at least a few days of pain with no relief in sight.
It’s a peculiarity of my mutant family that pain killers don’t work too well on us. Get a high enough dosage in and they start to have an effect but by that stage, our mind is fog bound and the autonomic systems are thinking about a nap. A standing joke between my analgesic immune sisters and their husbands is that everyone has to take their rings off during childbirth. I’ll never let you near me again becomes their battle cry. We’re a bit like old charging rhinos you have to decorate with tranq darts to take down. We’re all obliged to take our pain neat.
Having banjaxed myself, I thought don’t stand up, don’t move, just stay seated in front of the computer and keep on writing. It was a good mitigation plan and worked very well for the next five minutes until with a sizzle of static discharge from the screen in front of me, all the power in the house went off. Power cut. Jesus H bloody Christ on a chariot, why me Lord, why’s it always me? Life, as John Lennon remarked, is what happens to plans.
I settle in for the siege. I do the spine straight standing up thing and carefully edge like an arthritic and elderly preying mantis from the study towards the couch in the living room. I sit and pack lots of cushions around me for support and the emergency power outage plans swing into action. I feel useless, like a seventy year old General Blücher issuing orders from the couch, rather than a horse that’s been shot out from under him at Waterloo.
The candles, which don’t require working batteries, are retrieved from the fuse box after the customary breaker check, as are the box of matches of the non safety sort, which you can strike on anything. The big torch, a nicely weighted club, is retrieved from the bedroom, where it forever lives as a pacifier just in case one of those noises my woman sometimes hears in the night does actually turn out to be a burglar.
Neighbours drift in, just to check they’re not the only ones. We cook on gas, so lots of hot drinks are made and flasks filled with hot water for those unfortunate enough to have electric cookers.
The sun starts to go down. I know I can’t make the stairs and tell her and anyway, there’s no way I’d ever be able to find a comfortable position in bed. More packing of cushions on the couch, a kindle and candle placed in front of me, a pile of quilts, a kiss for luck and I’ll be good for the night, and I surely am.
Our gas central heating has an electronic brain, which means it isn’t working. It’s cold and I think of my woman and miss her desperately and deeply and just the simple thing of being able to cuddle up to her. Somewhere in the house there’s a yellowing piece of paper which says we’re officially man and wife but we were always that and never needed any piece of paper to tell us it either.
I try reading by candle light but it’s not working out too well. The cherry on top of the whole disaster is that I broke my reading glasses the previous night and the backup pair are the wrong strength. Giving up, I think of what Willy Shakespeare said – When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions. It’s going to be one of those times you just have to dig in and take it, so laugh it up Kiddo, laugh it up.
My world has shrunk down to nothing but me, a candle on a plate, some pain and my thoughts. You rarely get to spend such quality time alone with yourself, I think ruefully. I recall people and places, catnap sitting upright, leave my mind free to wander and wait patiently for the dawn. The curtains have been left open as I asked and when the sun comes up, I can read again. I smile, people around me are learning how to think ahead.
Through the day neighbours drift in an out, comparing how they’re coping. There are some good stories there, teaching their kids to play cards by candlelight, board games, a lot of new things they’ve never done together. There’s still no sign of a repair crew in the area fixing the lines, so people begin to prepare for another night of darkness. My back’s quite a bit better but I’m won’t be doing any Cossack dancing just yet. A welcome improvement in my preparation for another night on the couch, is the mysterious arrival of a bottle of whiskey. That, a glass and a jug of water placed in easy reach completes my arrangements.
The second night passes and it’s a lot more comfortable. I’d thought of adding a pen and paper to my night-time preparations but on balance preferred to be left to my thoughts. Day two arrives and there are rumours from foreign shores of repair crews in the area. As sundown approaches, the power’s still off and people are by now preparing for a third night of candlelight games; though they don’t look too distraught about the prospect. From one or two smiles exchanged, I begin to think there might be a slight uptick in the local birth-rate nine months hence.
The sun goes down and one hour later, power is restored. I swear I can almost hear a subliminal cheer rising in the village. Life gets back to normal. I turn on my android tablet, get back into WordPress and look at the article I was working on. It’s nearly complete and it’s about COP19, the upcoming annual climate conference that’s about to happen in Warsaw. Reading it, it’s a solid piece but in terms of analysing the drivers and probable outcome, there’s nothing substantially new in it that I haven’t already covered in the previous ones.
Over the years it’s become a pre-christmas ritual to do a piece on it and to be candid with you, I’m bored to death with writing the same generic article every year. Thousands of bureaucrats, regulators and assorted green pressure groups will converge on a city, talk a lot, party a lot, make fine speeches about saving the world and having failed to agree nothing more than the location of the next taxpayer-funded conference, go home feeling self-righteous about themselves. The only interesting thing about Warsaw is the location. With the exception of Moscow, it’d be harder to think of a more ludicrously hostile location, but that’s just Wol at work.
I scrap the piece because I’m ashamed.
I can afford the increase in my power bills, I’m fortunate to live in a community of people who look out for each other but above all, I know the repairs will be made and I will once again have heat and light. Two nights sitting alone in darkness and cold and getting a real feeling of what that must be like for an entire winter, puts any of my troubles into perspective.
I got into the climate wars years ago and that was all about somehow trying to get the green jackboot off the neck of the developing world. Out there, people were dying the real death from the best of environmental intentions and the only sequence in sight was to attack it in the fat and happy developing world and hope by contributing to its demise there, it would eventually trickle down to some relief for the poor bastards at the end of the who gives a real shit anyway pipeline.
We’re going into winter in the northern hemisphere and people are going to die from the cold, and too many of those will be preventable deaths. They’ll die because they can no longer afford to heat their homes or they’ll simply make that fatal misjudgment and self-ration themselves to death. There’s nothing immediate to be done about that waste of our most poor and vulnerable citizen’s lives. They’re dying for nothing more than a green chimera.
That is a development I never saw coming but it’s all too tragically obvious now. The green monster is now killing the poor in our world.
Ernest Hemingway once wrote about the coming of unusually heavy spring rains smashing the budding leaves off the trees and killing the spring. He compared it to the death of a young person for no reason. The end result of so much policy driven by environmental concerns is the early deaths of people both here and in the developing world. We have to make those deaths mean something. I believe it’s only by telling their stories in human terms that people can relate to, that there’ll be if not a reason for them, at least a meaning to them.
They’ll be gone but we must learn to speak well for the dead, so the ones who can be saved don’t share that same fate - a death for no reason.
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