Journeys

Regular readers will be aware that I spend a distressing proportion of my life lumbering about the country by rail, bus and taxi. I know it’s hard to believe but I don’t actually have a driving licence, nor do I really need one. Where would be the fun if I couldn’t moan about public transport?

journey-destination

So when I was confronted with this little piece of wisdom today I curled my upper lip into a practised sneer and muttered under my breath “oh, really?”. That was because the destination in my experience is of some significance and bears on the nature of the journey in no small part.

Still, I was game for a laugh so I gave it a little more thought, and that was because another thing I have come to notice in my experience is that clichés evolve for a reason. The reason being that a cliché is usually based on a wider truth recognised by the population as a whole. That is how and why it becomes a cliché in the first place.

I sat and gave it some cursory attention. “Why this cliché?” I asked myself. “What truth is hidden within?”

Waiting for an answer, I got my metaphorical head on and thought a bit more. “Life,” I pondered, as is my wont, “it’s a funny old thing and a kind of Journey.” This was no doubt the point the said meme was hoping I would reach.

To be obliging, I thought about the weekend I had just spent with the Offspringses home for the Chocolate Festival. We had a good time, playing games, eating treats, drinking wine and watching films. We visited other family members. We talked about stuff. What more can you ask for, and in what better company? I am so grateful my family is a friendly one that can spend a weekend together without screaming and shouting and slamming doors. Occasionally we even share the washing up.

That little leg of the Journey was spent well. We shared love.

I thought about all the actual journeys I take, and how I enjoy chatting aimlessly to complete strangers about this and that, playing games with their toddlers, hearing about a wedding or a break-up, learning about a new author or music, sharing tales of disaster and inconvenience, gently one-upping each other with calamities of the non-serious kind. I am especially fond of the bus ride from York to Whitby on the Goth weekend when most of my fellow travellers are of the pale and interesting variety. It’s amazing what conversations you can have with strangers. We seem to meet the essential part of each other when trapped together in a moving carriage for a couple of hours. Then we go our separate ways, possibly wiser, and frequently mutually amused.

Of course I also have had journeys where my companions have been pretty hard work. There was the young man who thought I was an angel sent from God to save him, which was quite disconcerting as all I did was nod briefly at him when he sat down. Then there was the cactus enthusiast who spent a long bus journey telling me about his cacti and succulents.

Those legs of the Journey are spent well whatever the case. We share our humanity, sometimes easily and sometimes painfully. But we share it.

I might have started to think about the journey from then to now as well, but I was getting fed up with all the metaphysical nonsense and my brain was starting to fizz. Time for a cup of the brew that refreshes.

“And what is the destination anyway?” I mused as I filled the kettle. “What is it all about, really, when you get right down to it?”

Because that’s what clichés are good for, reminding you of the eternal questions, right there.

I thought briefly of the sparrow flying from the wintry tempest through the warm hall and back out into the dark.  That was the Journey. And, as with National Rail, the final destination remained out of sight and ultimately was cold, bleak and mysterious. Take that, you metaphor. (I blame it all on the film we watched this weekend, which was two solid hours of trope layered on top of metaphor and served up with a refreshing side salad of imagery. It means I will be having trouble processing reality for the next day or so.)

My destination, I concluded as the water boiled, was just that: the place I end up. I suspect it will be defined by rather than define my journey. I look at my mother and see she has ended up in her current situation as a result of her choices and decisions years ago. I worry that I will regret mine, but all I can do is make the best of the current service station facilities and hope that the next fork in the road (or points on the line) will let me veer in the right direction. I would quite like to avoid Crewe if at all possible and preferably Birmingham New Street as well. Certainly ending up at Warrington Quays would not be welcome. I have nothing against the places in particular but those stations are abominations.

Meanwhile, for the next few days I will be away in London for work, and hopefully fitting in a trip to the British Library. That’s a destination worth reaching. In the meantime, enjoy your journeys and send me a post card so I can read about where you are at the moment. Is it a motorway café, a main line or a siding? Perhaps it’s a cul-de-sac or a traffic jam or a picturesque bridle path? Feel free to engage the metaphorical muscles, but please remember I am not an angel, nor a cactus expert.

Namaste.

Strength in weakness – or why we need Schadenfreude

Rarasaur’s wondrous “Prompts for the promptless” feature Schadenfreude in this week’s episode.

Definition: Schadenfreude is pleasure derived from the misfortune of others.

Naturally the Germans made it into a single word while we poor English have to use a whole sentences to describe it. This leaves us less time to indulge our guilty pleasure in the act itself., and so we pragmatically have annexed their word as our own

Don’t give me that look. I know you do it. Every time you cheer a goal or laugh at someone’s stupid mistake, you are guilty. But be reassured, we all do it and it’s part of human nature. It’s tribal, it’s belonging, it makes us feel safe because it identifies The Other, the one who can’t or won’t or didn’t.

There is a passage in Seven Days in New Crete by Robert Graves describing a time traveller’s encounter with the future, where values are different:

…they lacked humour – the pinch of snuff that routs the charging bull, the well-aimed custard pie that routs the charging police constable. For this they had no need, and during the whole of my stay there I heard no joke that was in the least funny. People laughed, of course, but only at unexpectedly happy events, not at other people’s misfortunes. The atmosphere, if it could be acclimatized in an evil epoch like ours, would be described as goody-goody, a word that conveys a reproach of complacency and indifference to the sufferings of the rest of the world.  But this happened to be a good epoch with no scope for humour, satire or parody. I remember an occasion when See-a-Bird absent-mindedly hung up a mirror on what he thought was a nail, but was really a fly that had settled on the wall. Everyone laughed loudly, but not because of his mistake: it it was a laugh of pure pleasure that he caught the mirror on his toe as it fell, and saved it from a crash.

The time traveller is not very impressed. It’s why Paradise sounds dull and Milton had the best line for Lucifer with “Better to reign in hell than to serve in Heaven.” We like it a bit rough. It gives us stretch and challenge, and if we cope we can enjoy the failure of others as an added boost to our self-esteem.

EBL is in a rather sombre mood today, na? Walk with me on the Dark Side a little longer, I beg you.

My definition of civilisation is whom we choose to mock and whom we cherish and support. Do we enjoy a child crying because of failure? Or an elderly pensioner unable to understand the changes to the bus timetable? Or a disabled person trying to get into the library and having to use the goods entrance? What about foreigners who don’t understand how to queue properly? Somewhere in there you may enjoy their misfortune, but we all differ where and when.

My personal moments of unrestrained gloating are focused on seeing the mighty fallen. In other words, people that I believe deserve it because they have been insufferable in the past and are now getting a taste of their own medicine. You know the creatures I mean: politicians.

EBL, why are these innocent lambs fair game in your harsh, unflinching, judgmental eyes?

Well, I’m glad you asked me that. (I suspect some of you just nodded, and said “Right on, sister!” or words to that effect.)

It’s because politicians try to tell me how to live my life. They try to tell me what is right and wrong. They try to define Us and Them according to their personal belief system and not the consensual system of the people who elected them. They lie and cheat and abuse their positions. I am generalising: some of them are as yet still trying to do right, whether it’s effective or not.

All those squirmy moments in the Leveson Inquiry, those were great. Nothing changes, but at least now there are memories to cherish and my prejudices confirmed. That is why in this evil epoch we need humour, satire and parody – because the mighty are men, and women, of clay, of human weakness and frailty but pretending to be more. We need to remind them of their basic humanity, and if we do not use  sharp, pointy, steel weapons we must use sharp, pointy, steely words.

If I were a conspiracy theorist (and I watched The X Files avidly, so it is possible) I would assume that politicians would try to hide what they do to avoid such embarrassment. They try, poor dears, of course, but they always forget they are still only human. In the end they slip up, or are out-ed by the little people who serve them, and the ensuing hilarity over their pathetic machinations makes the enjoyment all the greater.

It’s why we enjoy the satirist’s rant, and I commend you all to A Different Daylight’s recent article on this very topic.  Because a well-constructed rant lifts Schadenfreude to the next level, to “Schadenfreude-EX-treme!”, as it were. It exposes and propagates and multiplies the effect for all to share, enlarging the tribe.

I cackle, my dears, I snort, and I turn to my friends and neighbours and indulge in tribal bonding with the well-worn incantation: “I told you so! Bloody politicians, they’re all the same. What can you do?” And we all guffaw and someone buys another round, and we are united in warm, joyous, fuzzy contempt, and the world turns.

We are devastatingly, shamefully, beautifully human.

Namaste.