With things this mad and bad, it’s laugh or lose your mind
As any keen reader is aware, the best way to know thyself is to look at thy bookshelf. We bookworms lay down books like wine. We often find ourselves buying a volume that we don’t want to read almost inadvertently, and then finding, years down the line, that it is exactly, but exactly, what we want and need to read right now, immediately, thank God we had it to hand.
When a hunger came upon me in my thirties to immerse myself in the Arthurian literature that had baffled and alienated me at university, there – somehow – it was, scattered through various bookcases and just needing pulling together and placing within easy reach of the sofa. The same with linguistics, the same with psychological thrillers and – an almost worrying specificity here – books about Lizzie Borden.
What, then, am I to make of the fact that I now appear to have an “apocalypse” bookshelf that is filled to overflowing? It began with fiction (from Louise Welsh’s Plague Times trilogy to Mary Shelley’s The Last Man) and (soft) science fiction (thank you, John Christopher, for all your fine work), but I thought nothing of it: who among us doesn’t have an appetite for “what ifs” and a deeprooted curiosity about how we’d fare in the event of a catastrophe?
But at some point I made the leap to non-fiction. Lewis Dartnell’s The Knowledge, whose subtitle “How to Rebuild Our World After An Apocalypse” captures its essence fairly succinctly, and, most recently, Chris Ryan’s Safe: Survival Techniques for Everyday Life and Alexander Langlands’s Craeft (an account of ancient skills and the mindset of the world that needed them. I shall look to my linguistics shelf to see how to pronounce the title – you see how it all begins to tie in?).
I can only conclude that just as my subconscious knew before I did that there would come a day when Arthurian tales would become my holy grail, my subconscious is now flagging up the knowledge that the end times are nearly upon us. Ah well. If I don’t have time to master the arts of survival contained within, at least I’ll have something good to read as the bombs start to fall. I must confess, is both recent and unearned. After more than a year of convulsing with anxiety, depression, rage and fear about Brexit, Trump, North Korea, the apparent confirmation of every worst suspicion you had about men, the powerful toxic effect of new technology on everything from democracy to the details of our domestic lives, I have suddenly gone through the looking glass and found myself free of it all. It has been too much for too long. As we came up to The Donald’s firstyear anniversary, something in me snapped and I’m now just strangely exhilarated by every piece of unbelievably bad and/or insane piece of news. Alex(ei) Salmond is to present a chat show on Russia Today?
But of course! Why not?! The Alabama state auditor defends Roy Moore, President of the Foundation for Moral Law, against paedophilia claims by citing “teenage Mary and adult carpenter Joseph” as precedents? Hilarious! I am a skydiver in freefall. I am a rollercoaster rider leaning into the bends, wriggling with delight in my seat, waiting to see just how far this thing will go. It’s hysteria, of course, as a self-defence mechanism. It’s laugh or lose my mind. Or laugh AND lose my mind. I always thought I’d go by drowning in a deep, dark morass of despair. But being trapped behind glass, laughing forever, is much better. Though even here some small part of me does recognise that it is still not quite the beau idéal.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year – the beginning of Christmas craft fair season. I am not a “crafter”. I cannot quilt or calligraph. But lead me to a school or church hall lined with the product of other people’s time and talent, and I am in heaven. Almost literally. I find a good craft fair to be a near-spiritual experience. I wander around in awe of people’s ability to conceive of beauty in their mind’s eye and then translate that vision into reality.
“Look at that!” I think when I see a gorgeous blanket, or wall-hanging. “That wasn’t there before! Someone – an actual person, just like me, and yet so unlike me it is barely possible to conceive the extent – made it! With just hands and eyes! And, obviously, some appropriate yet still basic equipment.”
It is an excellent preparation for Christmas proper. It softens the mental ground for the big event, since the ability to pipe a cushion, do smocking or appliqué anything seems to me only marginally less miraculous than the virgin birth. Anything that involves enamelling, glass-staining or woodcarving stands equal to it.
It also primes me for the annual, post-yuletide resolution to be a better person. If I crafted, I know I would be patient, I would be focused, I would be someone from a village in the Fifties when all things, including people – unless my entire collection of Miss Read stories is lying – were better in all ways. Until then, I can buy the good(s) of others, like a medieval peasant buying indulgences from a passing friar, and even a rather natty new purse.
Sharon Horgan and Graham Linehan’s comedies – Catastrophe and Father Ted foremost among them – have caused near-rupture to several of my most vital organs. Imagine, then, my initial shock at sitting stony-faced through the first three episodes of their new creation, Motherland. Now, however, I find quiet pride in the fact that I recognise virtually nothing of myself or friends in this tale of psychotically competitive stay-athome-mums; utterly chaotic working mums; lazy, absent husbands; and a wimpy stay-at-home dad, desperately trying to schedule sex with his unseen, career-driven wife. We in real life have moved on from this. It’s an oddly regressive comedy from, usually, masters of the art.
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Characters in Motherland, such as Kevin the stay-at-home dad, appear dated