I know how Victor Serge felt. Speaking to a cousin last night, we exchanged a lot of dark laughter over the situation in the Gulf. His laughter was perhaps darker, what with him being resident in the Gulf, but we were both amused. Not so much by developments (although, God knows they’re amusing enough) but by the ‘analyses’ offered by foreign ‘experts’.
“Can you believe” said my cousin, a very senior official in the Kuwaiti government, “those Bahraini idiots?”
On reflection, we actually found it easy to believe. The Bahraini ‘royal’ family have invited Saudi security forces to come and prop them up. The Al-Khalifas, who rule Bahrain, are failed Kuwaitis. We sent them packing 200 years ago because they were too short, too fat, too dim and too spineless. So they ended up on Bahrain, an island the size of Hyde Park, diving for pearl oysters while men like my great-great-great grandfather lashed their jelly-like arses with whips made from stingray tails. Useless fuckers. They always were and still are.
The current ruler, Hamed, has taken to calling himself the ‘King of Bahrain’. This is like calling yourself ‘The King of Underpants’. Not all underpants, you understand: just the underpants you happen to be wearing.
“What were they thinking?”, said my cousin. “The Saudis will eat them alive”. And they will: but that’s by the by and anyway, who gives a shit? It’s a joke country run by clowns–fuck ’em.
More interesting (to me and my cousin) was the outpouring of ‘expertise’ from ‘think-tank’ (sic) twits and assorted politicians (for whom failure is a way of life). The endless blather about ’causes’ and ‘effects’ and ‘potential problems’ etc etc was, I thought, a perfect example of Serge’s ‘logical lunacy’.
They reckon ill who leave me out;
When me they fly, I am the wings;
I am the doubter and the doubt…
You said it, Ralph.
What the ‘pundits’ (was ever a word more abused?) leave out is the operation of fate, luck, chance…call it what you will.
Take my recent near-fatal crash: I don’t propose to dwell on it because other people’s pain is rarely interesting. But it is interesting, I think, as an example of the operation of chance–a roll of the dice that landed me on a snake and not a ladder.
Were I a less sanguine man or a man given to self-laceration, I might detect the hand of fate; of Nemesis and divine retribution. After all, in addition to a lifetime of enthusiastic sinning, I’d stopped at a pub half-way down Charring Cross Road to have a drink with a book-dealer friend. We had exchanged a great deal of gossip, (some of it, I regret to say, malicious) about mutual acquaintances. Had I not done so, I never would have hit that black cab…but this sort of speculation is foolishness.
The notion that one might, by changing a single strand, alter the pattern that has woven you into the right here, right now is nonsensical. Change a single thread and you change everything. Trying to tease out the possible permutations, the potential knock-on effects of a single changed strand, will surely drive you insane.
Mind you, it could have been worse: I could (in theory) have passed through a rent in the fabric of space/time and been blown to fuck by a V2 flying bomb, the last victim of WWII. I might have fallen down a wabbit hole into an un-Wonderland, where Herr Prof. Rosen, perpetually poised on his toes, Bologna-bound, recites his magnum opus Little Rabbit Foo Foo in a loud, nasal whine, like a bluebottle trapped in a jam-jar. I could have suddenly found myself ‘socially prominent’, appearing in The Tatler and smiling inanely beside corpulent ciphers and haggard, blank-eyed women. I could have been run over by a bus.
But at my back, I always hear, time’s winged chariot hurrying near…of course, what nobody ever mentions is that time’s winged chariot is heaving with dice-men, card-sharps and coin-flippers.
Best to accept that life is a game of chance. Sometimes, anomalies in the game allow you to predict (to a greater or lesser degree) the behaviour of variables. At other times, the table hates you, the dice are deader than Vaudeville and the cards know you not.
The remedies are those Joyce prescribed for artists (after all, is there any greater gambler than the artist?): silence, cunning, patience and exile. The dice will warm up; the table will smile on you again; the cards will fall your way…eventually.
The popular t-shirt icon Albert Einstein once said ” God does not play dice with the universe”. Sorry, Albert: not only does God play dice with the Universe, but the Universe plays right back…and I’m damned if I can ever tell who’s winning: sometimes, I even think it’s me.
So, let’s have poems about chance, luck and fortune. Here’s mine ( I know you’ll bear in mind that this is the work of a one-legged, one-armed, one-eyed man with half a brain. What the hell…you’ve got to get back on the damn horse a some point: why not now?
Pound Shop Prometheus*
I’m not the life
nor the resurrection
but torn untimely
by Caesarean section
and hurled down the road
on two wheels
and a frame
keen in pursuit
of a sinuous flame.
Push down on the pedals,
much harder, go fast;
swooping through light
and swerving through shadow;
weightless, in flight,
like a bird, like an arrow:
there is no tomorrow–
now outrun the past.
a wind-caught bag
rises rapid and empty
it billows, exhales;
what had it held
and what was it for?
as upward it sails.
And then it all stops:
the film slips from the cogs;
again, it’s the rocks;
again, it’s the chains;
the eagles that strut,
that tear and that mock;
the old indigestion
the old liver pains.
I don’t know the burned man;
I don’t know the drowned man;
but the gone and returned man,
the pain-brought-him-round man:
him I know.
The man dropped from a high place,
the man stopped like a clock,
the man with the changed face,
the man bound on a rock:
him I know.
Now, mark you the reckless man,
now, mark well the speedy man,
the hot flame that danced
and that beckoned
disguised a black wall in the road.
*for non-UK readers, ‘Pound Shop’ is the equivalent of a US ‘Dime Store’.