My amygdala (or amagdala, as I like to call it) is being hijacked by the trauma of what is happening in the world. I feel dingo. Like I suddenly woke up in a post-reality, where I am in a mental institution having been deemed a degenerate by the authorities. Where I play bingo with my fellow inmates while dribbling down my chin from the medication. Where the Fourth Estate has been reduced to underground pamphleteering. Where the world is a conglomerate of one-party, corporate-run authoritarian states whose linked-in citizens are largely self-policing thanks to continuous surveillance (supplemented by a steady feed of propaganda, behavioural rewards, and socially/technologically reinforced docility). J comes to visit me, she sneaks in 50-ml bottles of vodka (hidden in homemade cakes) to medicate my soul. She is devastated by the state of things but what can she do? What can anyone do once you lose the (fact-based) media, the judiciary, the legislative, the executive, the security services and the army? Dribble. Feel dingo. Get lucky. Say bingo.
“Don’t worry, we’ll bust you out of here!”
A few years ago I was racing home (left, right, left) on a bitterly cold winter evening. When I saw a lost dog (it had a collar) clearly out of its mind with confusion and terror. There is nothing on earth that touches me more deeply than a lost dog. When people die in films, I think: “Great – one less.” When dogs die (as a result of human carelessness or cruelty), it feels like a cosmic injustice. The poor thing was shivering, caught up in the local rush hour, swept up in a wave of mass emigration, in a frantic search to find its place in the world. It was madly sniffing, desperately pissing (in dashes and dots). I knelt down and called out to it in my best doggy voice, it almost worked, it tentatively moved towards me. The plan was to take it home and find its owners or, failing that, a new home. But it was too far gone, its muddled instincts had driven it half mad, it felt compelled to keep moving. It ran into the courtyard of an apartment block. It was easy to spot amid the snow and ice in the glow of the lilac night. At last it had momentarily stopped moving. It was eating something it had found. Here was my chance to grab it by the collar. As I got closer, I saw that it was licking and gnawing at a puddle of frozen vomit. I called out to it again, hoping that the relative calm of the courtyard would make it more receptive to a stranger. It looked at me, its ears pricked, its eyes straining to make sense of what was happening. Before it ran off to get hit by a car or abducted in an act of extraordinary rendition.
YOU ARE AN ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE, A SABOTEUR, A BEAST, A DEGENERATE!
Hence my grandmother hated bingo. She was partial to Rummy, quick at Snap. She loved her soap operas, her Embassy Mild cigarettes, her tea and Digestives. She was not at all fond of lit-er-a-ture, although she was bizarrely obsessed with Oscar Wilde’s poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol. She knew many of the 109 stanzas by heart (she would sometimes recite them during my weekly visits). It was a little disconcerting to hear her say “each man kills the thing he loves” with such relish but I found it fascinating that the words meant so much to her. A copy of the poem lay permanently within easy reach on her bedside table so she could dip into it the way some people routinely fondle their Bibles for reassurance. I read The Picture of Dorian Gray when I was 15 and was deeply affected by its jingly epigrams and crenelated prose. I idiotically told my mother in passing (I was coming down the stairs, she was coming up the stairs; we met midway, by the spillover bookcase where I first encountered the extraordinary fact of Kafka) that I would have written such a book if Wilde hadn’t got there first. Please forgive my youthful braggadocio, I hadn’t yet studied the ways of the ant or bonobo.
STOP TALKING ABOUT FUCKING BONOBOS!
Wilde was a graduate of Oxford’s Magdalen College (outrageously pronounced Maudlen). Out of curiosity I checked a list of alumni to see what other famous/respected writers that elite-fabricating institution had produced down the years. It was a surprisingly paltry list but it made me happy to learn that Alan Rusbridger was among the college’s graduates. Rusbridger edited The Guardian from 1995–2015. He helped the paper enter the digital age and brought it to global prominence after publishing the sensational details (bit by tantalising bit) of Snowden’s pilfered NSA documents.
DO YOU LOVE YOUR COUNTRY?
Back in my institution nothing much happens. I dream of love by way of sleep perchance to live. But this one annoying patient keeps slapping my face with a glove. He thinks he is genetically and socially superior to me because he was engineered that way. And I must admit: he is an impressive specimen. He appears in adverts selling mortgages and pensions and looks perfectly at home in expensive restaurants. But something snapped in him after getting his teeth whitened. He couldn’t live with the phosphorescent glow, with the intensity of performance it required of him. His mouth became stuck in a rictus, he developed a fixation with bleaching his anus. The authorities became suspicious of him after he began torturing and killing ants. They tracked him (it was easy thanks to his teeth) all the way to the place where sense and language part ways.
WE ARE ALL IN THE GUTTER, BUT SOME OF US ARE LOOKING AT THE STARS
Meine Mutter was a good frau. But in the end life had whittled and eroded her down to a miniature of herself. She reminded me of the career politicians she professed to despise. In her mouth, language had lost all meaning. Because she had compromised herself to the point where there was nothing left to compromise. The word was the thing, the word was all that remained. And the word was “surely”. Or maybe “absolutely”. I’m not sure. It’s (click) pill time…
CANCER IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO BETTER YOURSELF
I revert to infancy, to primal idiocy. I believe whatever I’m told. Oh no, Boney is coming to get me! I hide under the sheets, where I meet my new bestie. We take selfies together, so many that we multiply into a new community, where everyone is never better. But one of the selfies gets ideas into its head, it foolishly imagines things can be better, it foments revolution, it secedes from the union by jumping out of the window into the car park (“an area or building where cars or other vehicles may be left temporarily”). It lands neatly within a parking space delineated by white lines, which neatly double up as the chalk outline of the crime scene.
YOU MAKE ME FEEL SMARTER – WISER EVEN – THAN I REALLY AM
Happy to oblige. Gulp.
DO YOU THINK WE COULD EVER BE FRIENDS?
Any two people can be friends if they’re left alone for long enough together, ideally on a desert island.
DID YOU VOTE FOR ME?
I don’t vote.
BUT THAT’S AN ABANDONMENT OF YOUR CIVIC DOODY!
HELLO? YOU THERE?
It is getting late. I feel sick to death of thee, me, all of it. I would like to abandon myself (swaddled in garbage so no one finds me) on a desert island, where I could expire in peace, even fabricate an amour for myself, with long flowing fronds for hair and voluptuous coconuts for breasts (held in place by twine or sheer force of mind). I would devise the most elaborate self-murder ever committed, it would take me years to come up with it, to plan it, to enlist the help of all the animals and plants I would need to execute it. Then maybe, just maybe, I would finally feel at home.