Damnit. I mean honestly. Just damnit.
This is the second time in as many weeks. One more such episode and you can call me obsessed; or, at best, dull. Either way, I am due a real wigging.
Pining for the fjords. Playing the piper. Deep sixth. Toes up. Terminated.
Death is like one of those mildly irritating guests present at most parties, eager to pass on to you the plot for his unpublished novel; his holiday plans and a recent dream involving (of course) his mother and Saxon candlesticks.
It is – death, that is - a right old drama queen. It flickers into the little grey cells implying a sudden – or reasonably abrupt – entrance, and precipitating a rapid and often dramatic finale.
Or does it?
Would that I could be so lucky as to embrace it with so certain a thespian urge.
Most people get instead the mortal equivalent of a cracker from Poundland: a slow humiliating loss of control and independence; revolving circles that spin ever closer to the drab cabbage-coloured corridors of a caring institution. Kind people doing jobs I could never manage. Alarms. The doctor on call like a sparrow manacled to the bird feeder.
We do not discuss it. We do not think it. We really don’t much want it. We certainly don’t get it.
Believers have, of course, an inside track, knowing that, so long as they have been reasonably good and can defend their moral choices, Rumpole-like, they will be ok on The Other Side.
I firmly expect, though no religious believer myself, to be there with them on The Other Side, chortling ever so slightly as we observe together the utter disorder of Nirvana. This will make them a little bit cross, or at least I hope it will: my underserving agnostic presence coming together with the administrative chaos of afterlife processing, a tiresome twinning no good person deserves.
But I say to them, as I say to the monkeys in the mango tree, immortality is like waiting for the bus. It is something you have to trust in, come what may. It is not like HSBC or Lloyds. You cannot bank with it in advance by joining a religion or doing or not doing certain things.
To imagine we even have one single whispered jot of a hint about what it all might mean is mesnomic; an own-goal heresy. How can we know the slightest thing about god? It’s not as if the clues – if that what we can call the universe – are especially obvious.
All we can do is trust – as if waiting for the London 328 bus which terminates in World’s End, or – for the more trusting, the Number 9, which will take you all the way to Olympia.
It’s Henning Mankell’s Wallander who has led me to this place. He is a gloomy soul. God, is he gloomy. His weather is gloomy. His father’s paintings are gloomy. His friends are gloomy. His rare holidays, his food , his car, his bank balance – everything gloomy as a railway station after midnight.
Mankell’s chief detective, Wallander, must be one of the most miserable literary inventions of all time. If he’s not drunk, late, or bereft, he’s in a diabetic coma. Rarely is he much concerned with villains. Stoney-sad, obsessed by a masticating mortality, a day spent in his company is like being trapped in a requiem mass.
Death, death, and death. It’s the wall paper, the meal on the table and the room itself.
It doesn’t have to be this way. One reads detective fiction to escape thoughts of mortality. The abiding presence of death and the incipient vulnerability the precedes it never much bothered all the other main crime writers. Just, it seems, Mankell
Agatha Christie is - as 2 billion readers will testify - a delightful comedian of manners, a Jane Austen who has finally been given a decent glass of whiskey. Death never troubles her. Ruth Rendell’s world is one of beautiful people with souls hammered out in hell. Death for most of them is like a checking in at The Ritz. PD James, who is, of course, really the best ( and I mean the very best) is all about and only really about things that are agreeable.
Agreeable. The word is worth a pause. Agreeable. Such a word is barely used today. But in P.D James’ books, where the topography is the central obsession; place precedes people, objects and even events. And they are either agreeable or not. Spooky Norfolk, Gothic Hampstead, Discreet Dorset. All very agreeable.
“And how is the death, sir”
Very agreeable thank you. So kind of you to ask”.
“Why not, it’s all so agreeable. Do you make it here?”
But we never ask for seconds do we? Of perhaps we do, up there in the afterlife, in the bit that we trust in, though have not the faintest clue about.
“Thank you so much for that most agreeable journey here. Might I do it again? It was such an interesting thing, most recommendable”.
The vet has been and checked out all 8 goats. All are in full working order. The schnauzers too, all 5 of them given their monthly blood check, stethoscope check, weight check. Happy hounds.
Four hundred and seventy two new specimen trees have been bought to fill out a bit of forest, They are due to be delivered tomorrow. A wall was repainted. A table made to feeds birds and squirrels bread scraps. A web site redesigned. Navigation improved. A podcast added. The post Vijayan monarchy of Sri Lanka researched a little. And that all just yesterday.
I’m doing every possible that is positive. As the authors of motivational books and programs have it: I am living my best life (though in using so appalling a phrase, I of course merit immediate extinction).
And, in a marvellous miracle of schadenfreude at its most delicious and thirst-quenching, despite all this, old Mankell does not simply just clobber me on the head,; he takes me, willing, fascinated, hungrily appalled, down into his foggy cave to enjoy his banquet of wild meats and thoughts to darken dawn.
But I am Cornish. I’m practical. I can wallow a bit in stuff. Be a caveman. Make sure I am whetted all over like a fashion student beelining the perfume counters of Harvey Nicks.
But ultimately I need to do something about it. Most of us do, even if we don’t admit it, or discuss it.
Each to his own, right? Become a climate warrior? Why not. Very agreeable.
Make a low maintenance garden? Lovely. And useful too – for later.
Exercise more; pick up a Winsor & Newton Foundation paintbrush, spend more time with family and friends? All very agreeable. I’ve often fancied knocking up few Rothko-esque billboards.
All of it – simply all of it - is like the closing down sale of a very fine department store.
Stunning items, new, gleaming, useful, top notch – and all at knock down prices. You’d be mad, you’d be utterly bovine to not take up the offer. It’s not going to go on forever. You thought it would of course. The whole world acts as if it will. But it won’t.
Wallander reminds me that you don’t have to merely endure it. You can actually enjoy it, if you have chosen the right Winsor & Newton paint brushes and are painting the right canvass – the one that says something you want saying.