Tuesday, 15 December 2009


49 years.
It’s 49 years to the day since I first drew breath.

Back in December 1960 a friendly NHS nurse could take my poor mother for a cigarette in the staff bathroom to calm her between contractions and it was merely an act of kindness. Today she would be disciplined for such a thing – but be beyond reproach and the reach of management’s powers to express more than disapproval if she left elderly patients to foul themselves or wander naked and babbling through filthy, germ-ridden wards. I was born a free subject of an independent constitutional monarchy that made its own laws, chose its own allies, and whose free press and state broadcaster kept its politicians and lawmakers under constant, if plumy-toned scrutiny. Now I look at my young daughter and see an hereditary tax slave whose dreams of productive and profitable work will be tarnished and whose substance will be leeched away to keep an irresponsible and foreign-ruled governing elite and its shore-to-shore herds of feckless dependents in the comfort and high-tech squalor to which they have respectively become accustomed. And I’m employed by that damned elite. Five years on and I would watch on the TV as Britain buried its great Victorian leader and national saviour amid huge and reverential crowds that were kept from the cortège’s path by files of numerous Guardsmen and Royal Navy sailors: now I’m obliged to endure the grandsons of the great imperialist’s colonial troops swearing and calling out fanatical insults at the return of much less numerous but no less gallant soldiers from active duty against barbarians who very soon might have The Bomb.

Time has changed me just as much; from a seven pound twelve ounce squalling and jaundiced redhead who my exhausted mother at first thought was tanned and healthy to a fifteen-stone potato-on-a-stick figure struggling (along with certain commercial French chemists) to keep the lethal and permanent blondness that that dare not speak its name: and which is brought by sunlight and Chronos, at bay. My nostrils and ears have mutated from delicate pinkish shells of hairless, kidskin softness to constructions that seem evolved to filter and harvest plankton. And is my mind and its apparent soul any better? Am I any the wiser for 49 years or just an older kind of stupid? Granted, the Right-wing idealism of my youth has mellowed into the Right-wing cynicism of approaching middle age (it’ll be 60 and no sooner, dammit!), but were my younger self’s never-published letters to the Telegraph or that couple of leaflets of mine that The Libertarian Alliance (Provisionals) used to keep to hand out at conferences actually any dumber than my almost-daily stern letters to the whole world (and to 1,500 discerning or at least tolerant readers globally per month)? Don’t even get me started on punctuation.Spiritually, too, have I learned everything worth a damn or a blessing. Does someone who moved through being a death-obsessed child to a pompous (would’ja believe it of me?) evangelical teenager to the college bar to nothing at all toa half-hearted tree hugger to a wistful but unconvinced reader of CS Lewis in 40 years know anything about the soul and The Questions and the Answer that isn’t inferior to humorous science fiction?

Forgetting the big picture as I rant about it here each week, what has the Small Picture taught me, and is there any comfort or wisdom to be had in it? It’s not so bad. I have fear in proportion, for starters. I’ve lost the childish belief that the scariest sound in the world is the closing must of the last episode of the present series of Thunderbirds and have gained instead a parent’s certainty that it’s the knocking at the door of a pair of grim-faced WPCs. No mlonger is the saddest sight imaginable the school gates at the end of the summer holidays and the start of the long new term. It’s a tiny coffin. And I know damn well to be grateful to Something or Someone that that’s all just theoretical terror for me, and I wish I could talk to It or Them to offer up something of my own in order to keep it that way.
And knowing that despite the fact that bad things happen to good people (and they have and do; in my family as in yours) love isn’t just possible, but that it can be found or created even at the end of a long line of disappointment: out of the blue; or out of the ether; or out of the Well of Wyrd a human heart can suddenly sing its silly little ‘We are One’ song just as loudly as it did during the teenage years, when I see as one by one my eternal bachelor friends and spinsters are picked off the shelf and the tree of love and late-night drinking and dragged, hung-over and screaming perhaps into something like domestic happiness. Or they just find or make a home to be alone for a while; but a base and a sanctuary for a heart dwell in.

So even if the Little Picture’s as full of heartbreak and loss as the Big Picture is full or real calamities ignored and unreal ones proclaimed; and if there is indeed No-one out there to thank or blame; and if private, family, neighbourhood or national life are never perfectly tranquil, safe or sure, then still and all even before I hit the beer tonight, I’m pretty sure that No-one’s miracles can still be seen, even after 49 inglorious years.
In every dawn chorus and maternity ward, and every act of kindness to friends and especially between strangers. It’s enough. It had better be.

And they remade Thunderbirds, too. Pretty cool, or what?


James Higham said...

Happy Birthday to you
The government's trying to screw
Everything we do
We need to kill em, that's true.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Happy Birthday Sir

Rob Farrington said...

Manny happy returns. Hope you have a good day; have a beer or three for me!

JuliaM said...

Many happy returns indeed!

CherryPie said...

Well happy birthday to you :-)

We are of the same era but let's keep that our secret ;-)

For me the fight is always onwards and upwards :-)

North Northwester said...

Hello again ,and thank you all. It was a fab day, and CherryPie- what an era!

Edwin Greenwood said...

Many happy returns, young man.

NHS? Pah! Some of us were born before the NHS (though only by three months in my case, it has to be admitted). I understand the delivery fee was £5, which my parents could ill afford, so they asked if they could have me on "appro" and pay later on the never-never. I wonder if I would have been repossessed (by whom?) if they couldn't pay.

Born in a hospital too, eh? Some of us were born in our grandparents' front room in a house which was demolished in the slum clearances of the 1970s -- and there was no bloody blue plaque erected to mark the spot by the Marxist bastard council of the People's Republic of Manchester, either.

And what do you mean by implying that middle age begins at 60! Bloody liberty! I might just possibly give middle age a non-committal trial run in nine years' time when I'm 70.

Glad you enjoyed your day, any road.

North Northwester said...

EG, welcome back. Ey up, old lad.
No delivery fee on the NHS for Tiny Northwester, though I understand that both she and any grandchildren of mine will be paying the Pastor's Son's gambling debts their whole lives; poor mites.
And I was born in the same hospital as Jimmy Young and Dennis Potter; thank Whoever I cleave to the sublime rather than the latter. I'm a northwester only on the distaff side and by upbringing as a settler: hence my extremism on t'subject, I fear.

And you're right about being 70. [Ladies present and people wanting to eat any time soon should avert their eyes now.]

My paternal grandparents were, ahem, biblically knowledgeable well into their 70s. Senile dementia, it seems, means never having to say 'Don't bother, I'll finish myself.'

Anonymous said...

Being well over seventy I can tell you that being alive is probably better than being dead.
What I would really like to know is when did you all evolve into the tiny finger and ever chattering mobile users.
Where did all the money come from for all your fancy living? Ipods and 'bling'!
What happened?


Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner