Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Forgetfulness

 Anyone - (I use the term advisedly, as thanks to several compulsory reeducation programmes, [coming to a council near you in the not too distant future], I do now fully understand that anyone can give birth, not just women) - who has given birth and then goes on to do it again will acknowledge that forgetfulness is "baked in" to the female - sorry, human - psyche. Otherwise, none of us, least of all women, would ever repeat the process.

In the same way, politicians, once elected and comfortably set up with reliable - at least reliable for the duration of their stay in parliament - salaries, seem to forget what it is like to be poor and to live in tiny spaces. Having forgotten, they cannot imagine what it might be like to try to get children to attend lessons online, when there is a poor internet connection and there isn't enough computer equipment to go round, or what it might be like to go day after day with no interaction with any friendly souls outside your four walls. 

It's not their fault. The human forgets adversity. It would be too painful not too. As well, most of us would prefer not to know - particularly if knowing involves acknowledging the folly and failure of policies forced on the poor by our own side or class in earlier decades.

All of this struck me, while rereading a novel by Aldous Huxley called Point Counterpoint. The single most striking thing about the book is how much Huxley loathed John Middleton Murry, upon whom he based the character Burlap in the novel. However, it is in a scene involving another character, a damaged person called Spandrell, that one of the problems of lockdown seemed well-expressed to me. 

In the scene Spandrell is in a pub on a cold wet evening. In conjuring the scene, Huxley captures what pubs provide and thus, unwittingly, since the book was written in the 1920s, gives the reader a taste of modern day lockdown, during which the inhabitants of Britain are deprived of pubs and other places to gather with fellow humans and escape the cramped conditions of life in third-rate accommodation:

"The swing door opened and shut, opened and shut. Outside was loneliness, damp and twilight; within, the happiness of being many, of being close, and in contact."

A conversation that takes place in a much earlier scene in the book is also highly pertinent today, in its suggestion of an alternative, if brutal, approach to the current pandemic. It takes place between Spandrell and "ruthless amusement-hunter" Lucy Tantamount, (supposedly based on Nancy Cunard, now feted as an anti-Fascist and anti-racist, but inextricably linked, perhaps wrongly, in my mind, with Evelyn Waugh's Brenda Last in A Handful of Dust). It goes like this:

'"What shall I do when I'm old?" [Lucy] suddenly asked.

"Why not die?" suggested Spandrell.'

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