With things this mad and bad, it’s laugh or lose your mind

The Daily Telegraph - - Comment -

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.

FOL­LOW Lucy Man­gan on Twit­ter @Lucy­man­gan; READ MORE at tele­graph.co.uk/opin­ion

Such sangfroid,

Char­ac­ters in Moth­er­land, such as Kevin the stay-at-home dad, ap­pear dated

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