Fly my arse! Win some, lose some, that’s life old friend…
He shot out of the ice-cold water onto the shore. Was it the adrenaline exploding? what was it… the massive lock and chain holding his legs fast to the reed bed… the absolute fear of drowning… a nightmare… more real than real… cortisol rocketing through his adrenal glands, propelled his body through the air like a rocket… how had he landed this way and why here? Given the stark contrast between water and land… his torso shivering… racing, about to explode… some respite, to look down and see his bare feet dancing a crazy jig on that all too familiar flagstone floor.
Holding forth in your sleep again… the old boss said, throwing down some worn laces, as if they were a gauntlet challenging him to rise to the occasion. Come on twinkle toes, lace your shoes with them strings... the voices… civvies to order... thank god for the guards… this time. Nothing but reassuring. They came for him, as they said they would. You’re out today… then he remembered… a home to go to… a searing pain hit his solar plexus, neck and shoulders knotted right back up… your own bed… tighter and tighter… nip it in the bud, a one off, we’ll miss you old man, the looks, the smiles, when you couldn’t get the book you needed… we knew and we’re sorry… don’t go there… reading s’not my style man, life’s a lottery, what’s that mean, a one off, that obscure fact, we knew who to turn to, now it’s your time… to turn… for the other side…
The joshing around continued, an ambiguous tone, as they escorted him, uptight and in favour, from his cell… you escaped the cage, but you won’t escape the karma... you’ll be back soon enough… eat, sleep and drink bird, that’s how it goes for an old lag like you. No it’s not, he thought, you’re better than this… The inmates on the block, those awake at such an hour, wished him well and started spreading the word… one iron gate opened, for another to close… down one caged corridor and another… before he knew it they were standing, on the main drag, in the administration wing… conducting themselves professionally, the screws, finally drew a blank… awkwardness gave way for an angel to pass… stay good, keep it together… breached, as he felt, by the homegrown jibes, he knew where he stood in their company, felt vulnerable to their leaving… they nodded, see you next time around, and left him to it.
He was about to knock on the governor’s door, to collect his release papers, when the wily inmate who’d cornered him in the library a few weeks previously caught his eye. The tenderfoot was sweeping the floor and worked the broom to edge his way over, a little uneasy perhaps, like he was mournful, apologetic even. Not that he had anything to be sorry for… I’m… this… you… leaving… to say something…
Hard to know what the kid wanted, what he was getting at… we all made a wrong turn somewhere along the path, leave ceremony, lay out the word, or forever hold… permission granted, the recruit cleared his throat, was about to offload phlegm to the floor, thought better of it, swallowed and got to the line… the specs of dust I watch, streaming in the shaft of sunlight, first thing in the morning from the bunk in my cell, are halfway between an atom and the Earth… one speck might contain 3 trillion atoms… I read that in one of the books you left with me. Atoms always seemed large to me, certainly significant… that something invisible to the human eye, so infinitesimally small, can be so powerful, so different to what we might think it is…
With that salutary lesson hanging in the air, the impetuous kid, his finger well and truly on the pulse, came to attention, brought the broom across his chest to the vertical, stared straight ahead, an unflinching look in his eye, and given the time and place, mouthed as loud as you like in deafening silence… PRESEEENT ARMS… saluted, stood down, turned on his heel, marched back along the corridor into the shadows and disappeared.
I knew there was nothing I could do to steer the course and watched in vain, as another layer of the self peeled away and vanished in the echo of a prayer.
A few minutes later, ten in his pocket and change of circumstance in hand, he stood alone, harnessing courage inside the vast tomb of the gatehouse, waiting for the boss in charge to release the locks. No goodbyes here, no fanfare, or sentimental tittle-tattle, just a nagging dread for what lay ahead playing havoc in the pit of his stomach and the sound of his heart echoing back through the corridors and hallways of his home for the last decade. In view of what lay ahead, the routine he’d adopted inside suddenly seemed secure and welcoming.
While his future jostled with the past, for favour in the present, the deadlock suddenly sprang to life. Like a lid plied from an old coffin, one of the big gothic doors, Victorian in birth, now electronically controlled, creaked and groaned to the opening, guided by steel wheels that rattled along an iron track embedded in the cobbled paving. He moved cautiously toward the arched gateway, hoping in some small way his misdemeanours would purge themselves, a glitch to be forgiven, so he could at least meet his ancestry on the other side with some humility and a peaceful disposition.
Determined to keep his feet grounded, he stepped into the out.
Gazing ahead, stock-still, he savoured a deep breath… the air was fresher than he remembered, the light brighter and the trees had grown fit to burst, all shades of autumn. Apart from an old guy, some way off, sweeping the road and a couple of vacant cars parked in the lot, the place deserted. The oak-heavy door behind him rolled its way back toward the limestone carcass, this time accompanied by the added sounds of clanking and hammering, which he put down to a mixture of modern day mechanics, clashing with the antiquity of the building. The extraneous noise grew more persistent… his ear attuned… the thumping rhythm more apparent, drumming, louder and louder, as increasing numbers of prisoners reached out between the bars of the cell windows, clutching metal bowls, mugs, anything that came to hand, each one adding extra ballast to the symphonic chorus. Beating out a resounding score against the grey stone walls and steel bars, his fellow inmates reached a crescendo that could do nothing but make the hardest heart dissolve.
The dam burst, and a desert turned wildflower green…
He wiped the tears from his eyes and on considering the new world to the south, a whisper of why they couldn’t have given him his due, when he’d needed it most, came to mind… fear, pride, perhaps, a belief that someone else will have the upper hand if you don’t?
In the brush off, they gave me the quiet I craved, an oasis for learning I so desperately needed if ever I was going to change.
Somewhere in the distance a bell tolls, on and on, the old knell, one that rings out a signal, some ominous impasse at the fairground of repetition.
He walked and walked, then walked some more…
Miles down the road, far beyond the prison walls, in the bright light of day, he turns a corner… a cold breeze nips at his face… the stately buildings and grand townhouses seem familiar… he hesitates… takes a few steps, then stops in his tracks… paralysed… stunned by the judiciary… he… a stark injustice screams out in the face of this lunacy… they’re all lined up, in a parade, ready and waiting to chastise and revoke his seed.
Now, now, must be now… I’m not a dud, I’m capable, more than capable…
Not that way, this way…. coaching the child ever forward, the lady’s words sang out…. round and round the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush…
The surface, that was silky smooth to the adult, seemed rough and tangled to the toddler… this is the way we wash our face, wash our face, wash our face. This is the way we wash our face on a cold and frosty morning… up and down the city road, in and out the legal, that’s the way the money goes… snap goes the weasel!!
And the barker’s drum gets louder… step right up it’s the main attraction… game’s the same, just a different name, forget the old deal, this is the new deal, a golden key, served up on a sovereign platter, a throne of unsolicited power, tempered and fixed… a secure, unending, future… yours for a steal… tell you what I’ll do, I’ll give you one for two… I’ll throw in a warranty, subject to contract… you’re not the mad hatter, you’re full of tricks… bingo, you hit the jackpot… chosen wisely… stamp the seal, this one’s for real…!
And!? If you don’t do what you’re told! Far from the foothills of a secure dimension, the monster begets a child that maketh the man!
Angry, don’t be, don’t rattle the cage, stop making a fuss, keep your head down, get out of sight. Countries and governments leave offended, hurt, betrayed, then plot, scheme and go to war, but not you! You’re far too small, you bark too loud, you’re liable to get your head shot off. Democracy, who says so? A life in clover makes a child roll over. Play by our rules, son!
In the child’s defence:
Over a continuum of managed time, on an incline of extenuating circumstance, the child’s place undermined, torn down to a belief that life’s rewards are just. Well worth the sacrifice. His affirmed character, his spirit, overruled, overlaid… broken… by the adult’s conviction that their gateway is the only opening worth pursuing.
International organisations such as the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Council of Europe, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights advocate an end to all forms of corporal punishment. Despite this wave for change, violence toward children is commonplace, usually administered behind closed doors, making this ingrained habit hard to stop, especially in countries where parents have the right, if not a duty, to punish children physically. Along with the mental masquerade, innuendos and putdowns, parents and carers throughout the UK have the law behind them. Smack a child back in line, without compunction ‘as long as it’s within reason’.
The child is a child, securing a foothold in a profession, becoming top dog in the field… the number one priority, above and beyond the wonder and mastery of life, is to see eye to eye with their ‘betters’ and settle a score… driven by payback/reward, warranting a chase, in for the kill, at home, at school, in industry, selling energy, oil, guns, furniture, making news, gaining notoriety in the arts, building bridges, planning architecture, making engineering, the overwhelming aim, the apparent god-line of our existence, is to sit soundly in a lone throne of one; a backstabbing scramble to the top that sees most of us eking out a living, from day to day, in a vacuum of insignificance and isolation…
Are we just manikins in play, at the beck and call of each other, only to judge, try, gobble another if so desired?
The fact remains that whatever the occupation, however successful, however powerful we seem to be, this roleplay can never make us secure, because it is a minuscule fraction of self, with all commanding spheres.
The sun peeks above the horizon, we attune for the day, go about our business in a certain, knowing, way… then night comes, blows out the light and we’re handed over to another place… a place of unknowing… healing and solace. The sun, the moon, summer, winter, night and day, procreate… a coin with no sides… one exists for the other… like a minor’s sleep, where there is apparent inaction, death is there for life.
The grownup flips a coin, nature turns the tide, and the child sings a curious tune… some escape, even those at the centre of death and destruction, to keep their enthusiasm for a fresh and excited view of the world…
Picasso takes the brush to canvas a certain way, Van Gogh another. Through the lens of their intellectual window, their emotional and physical journey, rooted and manifested from the day they were born, dictates, weaves, angles, light, shade and colour, to reflect the beauty, recreate the marvel of a simple chair, identical in design, yet convey it to us, as something extraordinary, fathomless and unique.
On any scale, from humble to gross, invisible to visible, there are infinite possibilities for what things seem to be and what they supposedly are. What we once considered the definitive texture and flavour of our home can transform radically if a baby is born there, for instance, or someone close to us dies… such circumstantial intervention can change our outlook so radically the nest of origin vanishes in an instant.
At the top, the bottom, or somewhere in the middle, whichever way our life’s plan works, wherever we end up… however clearly, we think we grasp something, whatever age, young, or old, whether it’s looking down the lens of a microscope, or witnessing a panoramic view from the top of a mountain, the trajectory of our journey colours where we are, who we are and what we take in. The influx of stories, our age long sensory intake, coerces and articulates our awareness… if we are tired, stressed, relaxed, at the peak of fitness, short or long sighted, a few weeks old, or on our deathbed, many neurological and biological factors, flush the prism of senses, shifting the boundaries of what is thought to be.
An architect, with the tools at their disposal, their scientific know-how, endorses diligence from the agony and ecstasy, of the child’s journey, to produce a mirage of engineered precision that defies the eye, proves their artistry and redefines our lives forever.
Using the scientific exactness of the camera, chemicals in a darkroom, or the digital trickery of the computer, a photographer, given the job of selling a product, will make informed decisions regarding the preconceptions of the clientele and how they are to be persuaded. The original product, if we can define it so, must capture our senses. Presented in a certain, deliberating way, the object becomes unrecognisable, even to those who work alongside the photographer, as they polish and refine the image, for marketing. The methodologist and fantasist, as one person, reflecting on and redefining a subject, sown in from the helter-skelter of their past, pull out all the stops, to produce a multi-dimensional thirst quenching dream.
Whether it’s in the studio, the laboratory, or out in the field, the artistic and scientific premise remains the same…
Scientists may seem more precise, focused on their need to keep to the facts, however, like artists, they too reflect, sustain and breakdown barriers, between what is and what we perceive life to be… that doesn’t mean the artist that paints a greater likeness, to what you or I might see as a vision is the best, or that the scientist’s latest breakthrough is the final say on the matter. As an artist, Van Gogh died in obscurity, with no money and no idea how influential he would become. Picasso was a celebrated painter for most of his life. Does that make him a better than Van Gogh?
On the hoof, with passion, ad hoc, or deliberately wrestling the other’s persuasion, science and art, driven by the tsunami of rhythms, the emotional melodies and mashed-up cup of a child in time challenge perceptions and change minds.
When a scientist dares to let go of dogmatic reference and walk among their kind, susceptible to vulnerability, unlabelled, enlivened and not knowing, as the open heart of a child might, the prevailing enthusiasm can bring light to dark, open new ground, groundbreaking perceptions, where the fundamentals of our realities flip inside out, turning fire, water, earth and air to our benefit, or finishing with the meaning of life forever.
We have made a thing, a most terrible weapon, that has altered abruptly and profoundly the nature of the world … a thing that by all the standards of the world we grew up in is an evil thing. And by so doing … we have raised again the question of whether science is good for man. Robert J Oppenheimer
Most scientists instrumental in procuring the atom bomb, under the umbrella of the Manhattan Project, like children tripping up on the larges of an adult reality, took a curve dive into a quagmire of doubts. Haunted for life, by the outcome of their work, which over two consecutive days in August 1945, saw two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, killing thousands upon thousands of civilians.
After the War, while the nation-states with their finger on the nuclear trigger hold the world to apocalyptic ransom, the American theoretical physicist Robert J Oppenheimer, credited as being the father of the atom bomb, one of the leading lights of the Manhattan Project, linked arms with Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell, Joseph Rotblat and other prominent figures of science and academia, by establishing what would eventually become the World Academy of Art and Science.
Hoping to pull back symmetry, the scales of civilisation tipped by the weight of war, the Academy, founded in 1960 with the premise that those in powerful positions heed those voices blasted in on the wind… a child cries, man down… the thought evoked, an idea born, a deed done and the consequences are forever.