I come from an old and possibly obsolete people, a culture that lived in quiet isolation for thousands of years well away from a bigger humanity that got on with developing grand civilisations without our input. It wasn’t a bad arrangement. We did our own thing in relative peace before outsiders finally decided we were worth conquering, and God only knows what was running through their head at the time.
It wasn’t as if we had much for them to take. However, the one thing we could always do was give them a whole mess of trouble. We’re very good at that sort of thing.
What that thing we were doing is quite difficult to put your finger on but once disturbed from that obsessively inward contemplation of things which mattered not a damn to anyone else but ourselves, our next half millennia of history became turbulent.
Turbulent rhymes with terrible and some terrible things were done which we’ll never forget. We can forgive but we’ll never quite forget and that memory has been somehow been scrimshawed clean down onto the very bones of us. Underneath it all, it’s an old smouldering thing which the best of us know better than to visit on the new generation and the worst of us know exactly how to exploit as periodic justification for the murder of the innocents.
They’re too stupid to see the pattern of hundreds of years of history – the outsiders overwhelm us and after a necessarily difficult and cruel period of adjustment of a few generations or so, we absorb them, coughing up and spitting out the indigestible bones of them with a bit of blood on our gums but embracing their better parts into a new, fresh and invigorated tapestry of life. The invaders become us plus, and indeed have a tendency to become our most effective leaders.
When it comes to the long game, we could teach the Borg collective a thing or two – seduction trumps compulsion every time.
A bit of humour, some kindness and the passage of years lets you smooth over almost anything, sometimes even the most unforgivable of things. You redirect that foundation tribal love into some higher ideal because if you don’t, unused, it’ll burn the very life out of you. There is a compulsion there. You are one of a small displaced tribe which no longer has a place in a fully automated world that values nothing more than kerching, and you have no power – it’s their awful world with no music in it beyond the mercantile ringing of tills. Needs must and by necessity, that care manifests itself down to a sort of pavement level regard of ordinary people.
In the main, we followed our essential nature and became by tradition the necessary people after a lot of initial ditch digging just to stay alive; the protectors trying to shield others from hurt or failing that, tried to kiss it better when all the harm had been done; the soldiers and cops, the priests and doctors or just the teachers or nurses trying to get the shattered survivors of some horror back on their feet – always driven by that unconscious underlying compulsion to put together again the tribe that once we were a part of.
You see, compassion is the only learned virtue. When you’ve actually been down there on your ass, at the bottom of the pit and realise nobody gives a damn – you either give up and die, learn to be a good hater or you think if I ever get out of this bloody place alive, I’ll sure as hell make sure nobody else ends up here. Because you survived and so many others didn’t and you were way off any notion of the best of them, you’re automatically guilty, which makes you try even harder.
That’s always been our undoing, because at the closing of the day all of those professions are failing endeavours, they’ll suck away at you over the years and gradually eat you down to nothing in the end, which is why we tend to self-destruct at some point. You’re always on the go, desperately whipping those rods to keep those plates atop them spinning. One day, you’ll inevitably get to one of them too late and a plate will wobble and fall to Earth and smash into a thousand irreparable pieces and there’ll be absolutely nothing you can do to put it back together again.
It’s not the successes which you dwell upon, but the plates you missed. That’s never an excuse to give up but rather an imperative to pass on the torch of care to someone younger and stronger, in the hope they’ll bear it onward and with an equal measure of the same passion.
The other and necessary side of that passion is a cold preparedness to do what’s needed to be done. A long time ago and in a life far away, when I was young beyond all belief and having a hard time coming to terms with what I was capable of doing without much if any residual guilt, my mother told me a story.
She always helped her own mother out with the calving on the farm and one night in the early hours a two-headed calf was born. It was still alive. That would be interpreted as a very bad luck sign by the farming community at the time and you’d very easily lose all your hands because of such country superstitions.
Her mother beat the creature to death with the edge of a spade, the two of them dug a hole and buried it in the dead of night and made up some story for the hands in the morning. And yes, she used that exact phrase “edge of the spade.” She, like the man she would eventually pick out for herself, knew the precision of words. I could see that still violent but formative experience in her eyes as she related the story and nearly tasted the salty arterial splash of the calf’s blood across her young girl’s face as her mother hacked away, but I still got the hard look at the end of it.
Tough days young man, just get through them and get on with it.
She wasn’t telling me to man up, but reminding me that’s an aspect of the basic people we are and that’s just the nature of the beast, whether we’re men or women. I saw clearly what she was saying because it explained a few loose ends of family history that had always bothered me but about which enquires were very definitely discouraged. It was one of those conversations with your parents when all the defences with their children go down. True talk time.
In this so much better world and unlike her, I’ve never been obliged to tell such a hard personal story to my children, although I sometimes think I should, if only as fair warning about that part of their inheritance. I know their heart and see deeper into it than they think. That old bit of supposedly redundant Cro-Magnon cruelty is still there squatting malignantly within it and biding its time. It’s dormant and undiscovered by them but perhaps one day when it’s required, it’ll get them through some dark valleys as it did for me.
Like my mother, you bury some necessary things you’ve done deep in the ground and deep in your hard flinty heart, and you never take anyone else back to them unless it’s a needed thing to be done. When you go, those experiences go with you into oblivion, and for this relief much thanks.
There were never that many of us, just enough to fill a medium city these days. A few million or so. In a number of ways and for a lot of reasons, we had to leave home, and that slow drip drip tore a silent bloody lump out of our heart that bleeds to this day, no matter what we say in front of those easy smiles we give our darling children. Despite giving the necessary and whole-hearted fealty to our new adopted countries our children would be born in, something was lost, but from you, not them.
There would always be a part of us who were strangers in that new land and a nagging feeling that all that will be left of us in the end will be the echoes of our strange names. All else will be blown into oblivion before the winds of time and that’s as good as it probably will get, because after enough years of going native, you’ve more or less become a native and there’s no going home. It’s a one way street and no U-turn is possible.
We talk their talk, their languages, we walk among them doing their walk, but there’s still a hard little kernel inside us originals. Inside yourself, you hold onto a little precious something of you. Knowing there’s no going home and being by nature tribal is not a good combination I’m afraid, because it chews on you who’s become the eternal stranger in a strange land. My children will never have that nagging toothache of alienation no amount of pill popping can get rid of, and I’m happy for them. It should be so.
Home is gone, it’s an indulgent concept only ever occasionally visited in your cups, nothing more than a memory of people and places long gone. Nothing of it exists anymore, all gone, like tears in the rain, as Roy Batty said.
My wonderful children of that splendid new country look at me and wonder where my head is at by times and as they’ve become older, begin to see a shadow dancing behind the grumpy intellectual hiding behind their Daddy who taught them to read upon his knee but was always up for a game of tickle with them. There’s nothing grandly enigmatic behind it all, just me, a dreadfully simple but somehow homeless creature doing his best for them in a new land.
They’re all grown men now and love me, and I love them, hopelessly, helplessly and beyond any reasonable decorum once you get past the necessary hard-assed Dad front you have to do to push them on a bit when they were children. We’re both beyond that now. There’s somehow a sneaking regard of me as being a kind of grizzled throwback, a slightly crazed, scarred and broken down old berserker exhaustedly finding the energy for one last swing of a double handed chipped battle-axe – the last one, in his last battle, a troubled old true blood.
There’s some truth in that but I don’t like it. It delineates me as a shallow stereotype and them with somehow missing out on some sort of primitive ethnicity at the expense of being part of the modern world. They’re all fine men in their own right, and that’s a judgement I don’t bestow lightly, even on my own issue. If they have a failing, none of them were a daughter, which I would have dearly loved. That would have been a delight but there you go, nobody gets to have everything.
They all, just like their father, have their own particular San Andreas sized faults and yet I look at them and see underneath the urbane earned accomplishments that they all have that same fleck in their hearts, which means they are the true inheritors of their millennial forbear’s blood. All the decent peoples have that, but it’s that certain weirdo out of left field ethos they bring to the communal table of life that curses and yet marks them out.
One of them in his cups confessed he wrote poetry, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was moved to write a poem for him within hours of his birth. That’s all a young warrior can do in the emotionally-drained aftermath of being a hand-holding spare cog when the woman at the very core of your being is doing the potentially life-threatening thing of giving birth to your child. Every one of your primal instincts cries out to do a bit of battle because she’s hurting – and nobody hurts your woman when you’re around – but you have to stand and wait, helpless and unmanned. It’s horrible.
There’s a perception of me as a man deeply troubled by his own demons, which I undoubtedly am. They’re my demons but my own damn business, thank you very much. We have an accommodation. They drove me, made me, and I long ago accepted they’d burn me down to ashes in the end. We’re old friends by now and we try to live together as best we can. In balance for these demons, these words, an occasional blessed impulse of delight way up in that tumult in the clouds. A bargain is a bargain after all, and all debts must one day be honoured in full.
I knew very early on that I was going to have real problems. So many times, the smart move I couldn’t or to be more honest, wouldn’t take. Stubbornness I suppose, the sin of pride or just plain cussednesss. I’ve always been a man between the lines, tugged around and around in the human Lagrange point between emotion and logic. I love art but see the carefully constructed and deliberate nature of the good stuff. I love science but see that without some sex in it, you’re just another Morlock running around with a large spanner tightening over-large bolts, rather than doing the creative pelvic thrusts that are required to produce an unheralded child of some real value.
I’ve made a good living being rational, logical and utilising hard pieces of data and yet so many times I’ve had flashes of data rather than insight, and learnt to accept and use them. There was no way I could have known those facts and I’m still uneasy about that sort of inexplicable stuff that doesn’t fit neatly into the causal world I made my bones in. It’s all too easy to go down that spiritual bullshit path but sometimes, it is what it is.
My offspring are cultural hybrids whom I hope might perhaps one day introduce a residual element of that old tribal feeling into a hurried CGI and bloodless online world. That digital world needs the contribution from textured and analogue people like them, flawed humans, though it hasn’t quite realised that yet. It will though, because the harder you look at it, the more you realise digital lacks the porous granularity of real life. Artificial intelligence without the warts will always be nothing more than a simulation of life, and a dangerous one.
So many times, especially when they were younger, they ran into difficulties, real difficulties and I’ve never felt so guilty in my entire life for them inheriting my archaic but stubborn old Jurassic genes. On every occasion, I knew they each of them knew exactly what the smart move was but their stubborn heart said no. They picked their own particular thorny path through the situation and accepted the lumps for seeing things in a different way. My mouth in the habitual parent teacher emergency conference shaped the necessary placatory noises but my heart was simply bursting with pride.
They looked at me and knew my heart wasn’t in it – all that tribal non-verbal communication in an emergency kicked in and the chalkie could never see it. As they’ve grown to adulthood, they’ve found workable accommodations with themselves, life as it presents itself to them, their occasionally awkward nature for the twenty-first century and perhaps even me. I find a real pleasure in watching the slight madness in their zest for life.
We wouldn’t even make a decent fraction of a something to a noticeable little bit of the world’s population, and yet we abide and perhaps that’ll only be as an idea. Mebbe that’s as good as it’s going to get for an old race that was already in decline before the Mohicans appeared. One day, we’ll be remembered like those young upstarts of the New World, the Huron, the Brulé, the Oglala, the Miniconjou and survive only as protected specimen pets or tax-free casino write-offs on reservations or even God forbid, nothing more than a brand name on the side of a vehicle like the Winnebago people.
We’re not a people anymore, we’re almost gone nowadays, we’re more of an idea and that’s not a bad development, especially as I think it’ll be an end of our own devising. We do absorb outsiders into our culture, but we also tend to melt into the culture of whatever foreign shore we find ourselves shipwrecked up upon.
Our tendency is to see into the person inside the meat, irrespective of their size, shape, colour or affiliation, and to be frank, we’re always up for it, but having done the deliciously dirty deed, we do tend to stick around. If you’re a cultural purist, never mind a white supremacist, we’re your worst bloody nightmare since our national teams tend to have a good collection of unpronounceable foreign names and more pigmentally challenged butts than the Brazilian flag. They do seriously punch well above their weight when the mood takes them.
I am what I am and there’s no changing me, but I believe throwback Cromags like us still have something useful to contribute in this wonderful techno-heavy twenty-first century.
We might just be what’s needed to get you out of it in one piece.
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