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Take a Break from Bedlam.


IF, AS YEATS said, too much sacrifice makes a stone of the heart then certainly too much engagement with social media turns it into a Bedlam. If you don’t feel slightly deranged when you start following current affairs, you will certainly be trembling with a tumult of emotions within a short time of doing so. There is a limit to how much you can endure of the idiocy and ignorance of politicians, intellectuals and public before you end up thinking the social realm is a gigantic madhouse and that you’re as mad as everyone else. Unfortunately, it is a madhouse, but at least you can take a rest from it for a while by keeping away from the ubiquitous screens that dominate our lives.

That is why I have taken time out over the week to sit in my back garden when the weather has been right, catching the full warmth of the morning sun, listening to the blackbirds, pigeons and sparrows both near and far, enjoying the sight of a lush, mown lawn and the current crop of flowers – wisteria just gone over, begonias in their pots, dog roses, wygelia, and the small bees going from one bloom to another.

The birds, thankfully, have no knowledge of their imminent extinction as promised by the teenage automaton from Scandinavia and her simpering adult acolytes in the media. Neither does the hedgehog who snoozes in the shade of the undergrowth, nor the four frogs who inhabit our small artificial pond.

As is the case in so many instances, the ancients worked a lot of this out before us. It was the great Roman, Cicero, who pointed out that with a garden and a library you were in want of nothing else. That applies today even if your garden is a concrete backyard with a few flowers in pots or troughs, and all you have is a paperback in your hand. Of course Cicero didn’t live by his own precept but was so active in Roman politics that it eventually got him executed. If he’d stuck to his own advice he might have lived a little longer. This problem does not exist for most of us, yet,so we can benefit fully from his wisdom.

Taking this time out was more useful than usual this passing week since the media were full of the D-Day 75th anniversary events and the presence of Trump, the latter preoccupying them as much as the former. It is impossible for the media to besmirch the veterans for what they endured but in their eyes it is always open season on the president. You know the kinds of things they are programmed to say, so there is no point putting yourself through the purgatory of listening to them.

So while the apparatchiks of the BBC went about their business I sat in the garden, read my books and occasionally thought about my father. He would sometimes talk of being on board a supply ship off the coast at Arromanches during the landings, feeling the power of the naval guns almost punch the breath from his lungs. He was a non-combatant with bad eyesight. The British establishment therefore gave him the task of spotting aircraft. Every now and then I have searched the web for mention of this ship, City of Vancouver, but it is only this year, ironically, that I unearthed one. It was a 10,000-ton vessel carrying weapons, ammunition and troops. I have no idea what my father did throughout the war years up to D-Day; I suspect he was mainly doing clerical work. Being bombed and strafed for a few days must have made up for the general lack of excitement of his overall contribution to the effort. He certainly showed no sign of regretting it.

So it is when you take into account what others, such as your own parents or grandparents, have had to go through that you can start to get some perspective on the madhouse of the current situation and the snivelling over-sensitivity purveyed by the establishment. They had to cope with things of which subsequent generations have no inkling: personal losses, pain, shortages, great discomfort, the wrecking of dreams and careers. It is a truism to say that if they could get through that then those of us following can cope with whatever fate throws at us, whether it’s the chaos of Brexit or the existence of the Orange Man in the White House. We’re not going to go extinct soon. The earth is not dying. We’re not poorer than our grandparents. There are no fascists in jackboots ready to stomp their way into power.

If you put down the phones and tablets and step out into a garden for an hour or two and let your mind loose in the pages of a book you’ll find the world a surprisingly bigger and more attractive place. Let the inmates carry on screaming at each other on their own for a while. They’ll not notice you’re not there. Give Bedlam a rest. You’ll feel saner for it.

suxcoverCurrente Calamo columnist, poet and writer Michael Blackburn lives in Lincolnshire. A Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Lincoln University (2005 – 2008), his poetry has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies over the years, including Being Alive (Bloodaxe) and Something Happens, Sometimes Here (Five Leaves Press). His most recent book is Albion Days (perennisperegrinator press). Sucks to Your Revolution is a collection of his Fortnightly columns.

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