Posts Tagged ‘crisis’


man strolling in a wooded landscape - detail - A A MillsThis life’s dim windows of the soul,
Distort the heavens from pole to pole,
And leads you to believe a lie,
When you see with, not through the eye.

The Eternal Gospel – Blake.

A man enters the forest to cut wood. He hears music, discovers a beautiful woman dancing. She invites him to join her, and he has the time of his life, returns, stars still in his eyes, to find decades have passed, that all who knew him are gone, and he no longer has a place in the world. It’s a classic encounter with the Faery, and the meaning of it – for there is always a meaning – suggests that having once experienced the limitless bliss of the other-world, you have to find a way of forgetting it, or you cannot live in this one.

Or it might have happened the other way around, because there’s always an inverse to these things. A man enters the forest, encounters the dancing woman who lures him into an eternal life of merriment, romance and where all is wonderful. Decades pass before he tires of it – for humans will always tire of endless pleasure – and he craves a return to life, craves its imperfections, even the time bound nature of the human condition. He’s thinking all who knew him will surely be gone by now but, on his return, he discovers no time has lapsed at all and he merely picks up where he left off. The story here might be telling us the world will always find a place for those who grasp that crucial insight regarding the value of limitation in human affairs.

I’m not sure where these ideas come from, but they’re nagging me to attempt a contemporary story along similar lines, and I’m resisting it. But the more I resist, the more they nag and intrigue. I’d thought they were from Irish Faery lore, but in the main it’s mortal women and children the Celtic Faery are fond of kidnapping, suggestive of a different kind of moral altogether.

Then again it may have been something imagined or dreamed, and it’s a beguiling concept, that such ideas are eternal and floating about, waiting to be picked up by the passing mind, and it’s helpful if you can understand them. All myths come from an archetypal substrate and speak to us in a symbolic language, apparently seeking influence over human affairs.

The Faery were once understood as daemonic entities, not literally existing, but still real, visible only through the inner eye, as Blake once put it, a vision overlaid with the filter of imagination. It takes a kind of madness then, seeing fairies – indeed Wordsworth did say Blake was mad and he may have right – but not all daemonic expression is mad in a bad way. It can also be visionary. On the downside though, daemonic rumblings can spread like wildfire, leading to a dangerous shift in the Zeitgeist, to orgies of rage, to mindless persecution of the “other”, and to killing.

We needn’t look very far to find evidence of the daemonic at work in the contemporary world and have only to listen to the voices coming at us from formerly sane quarters, voices of unreason that can both pedal and believe in lies, even knowing them to be lies. For just as one half of the daemonic possess a heavenly form and fey, courtly manners, the other half knows no bounds to its depths of depravity, duplicity and ugliness. An obvious place to find it is in the comments of any social media, for once we discover the cloak of invisibility, it is the darker daemons that speak through us, and their language is foul.

This ambivalence of the daemonic is perplexing, and not something we can control nor every wholly trust in. When the genie is out of the bottle the story never ends well, except in Disneyland, because humans are outwitted with ease by the daemonic mind. Better then to ram the cork back in, cast the bottle into the sea and hope no one else finds it. Except it is the genii, the daemons themselves that seek us. And we just can’t help falling under their spell.

They require far more circumspection than we possess, especially at times of crisis, for they are the crisis, as if the daemons have gone to war with themselves, and it’s only when the Godly win out do we find peace again. But it’s never lasting, more cyclical, and I fear every other generation must learn these lessons anew.

So my guy goes into the forest, dallies only for a moment with fey beauty, because it’s infinitely preferable to the ugliness of the world he’s living in. But the world he returns to, decades later, is even worse, a world where voices threaten murder at every turn, and he witnesses a population cowering in fear and paranoia. But what’s the lesson in that, when there seems no solution to it? Are we merely to lay down and submit to such a fate, while the daemons rage war in our heads?

If we only knew them better, might we find a way to petition for a more lasting peace? But they’ve been with us since the beginning of time and if we don’t know them by now, will we ever? Or did we once, but in the rush to embrace reason, we have forgotten the Daemonic within us all, and thereby offended them?

I’m ill equipped to understand where any of this is going, lacking both the Blakean vision to see what I’m talking about, and the language to express it. And I fear in the end it doesn’t matter, because wherever the daemons lead, we follow, even if it’s off a cliff edge, and it’s really no comfort to be able say you had the eye on them all the time, and that you saw it coming.


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ambulance7-240x181I wonder how much we take our National Health Service for granted? Recently, I fell foul of a minor ear infection, so,.. phone call to my GP’s surgery, appointment that same evening, bottle of drops on prescription, infection gone in a few days. No work-days lost to feeling ill and with an ear the size of a balloon, like last time when I left it too late. Success? Well yes, absolutely, minor treatable ailments are dealt with efficiently and mostly for free, but things are far from rosy with the NHS.

I had another brush with it over the Easter weekend, this time not so positive, accompanying someone suffering from sudden and severe stomach pains to the A+E department. There being no GP cover over the weekend, I tried the national 111 service for advice, only to find it permanently engaged – not what you want when someone is writhing in agony beside you. I tried several times, concluded the service was useless. So I tried NHS online instead which took me through a question and answer of the symptoms and it said we should go to A+E, so off we went.

At A+E I discovered an overpressed and hopelessly outnumbered staff, holding at bay a waiting room of walking wounded – the limping, the swollen, the bleeding, the moaning, the coughing and the wheezing,… you can imagine.

Two hours of abdominal agony later, while buttock shuffling on bum numbing hard plastic chairs, an apologetic nurse explained the average waiting time was now six hours. This was not the wait for treatment, not the wait for my companion to be told he had a burst appendix, or reassured it was only trapped wind. This was the wait for assessment, for prioritisation, for triage. The wait for actual treatment could be another six hours. It was by then four pm and the system had collapsed. My companion’s face fell open in disbelief. How could he wait that long and in such pain? Well, we had no choice.

Upon hearing this news half the room cleared, suggesting many who use A+E departments don’t really need to be there, but that’s another story. My companion insisted he was in need of medical attention, and I didn’t blame him, so we held on. By now a softer seat had been vacated, allowing a more comfortable slump into semi-comatose agony. In the opposite corner sat a man who had been hit in the face with a three by two, literally quite a bruiser, beside him another with his arm in a make-shift sling after breaking up a separate bout of fisticuffs. They swapped stories with ribald humour. In the hallway stood a convict handcuffed to a Prison Officer.

Time passed. No names were called. I wondered if there’d been a terrible accident somewhere, a mass shooting, a massive motorway pile-up to bring on such a crisis. But it was just a regular Easter Saturday in A+E with no staff. A possible twelve hour wait? I wondered what state I would be in by six am tomorrow morning, let alone my ailing companion. Would his wait for an examination be shortened if he collapsed unconscious, rolled onto the floor? Dare I suggest it? Would anyone even notice?

He did not collapse. We waited another hour, then my companion began to feel a little better, well enough at least to walk slowly to the reception desk. There he withdrew his name and we went home, either to recover more comfortably in bed, he said, or die there in peace. I’m glad to report he was pretty much recovered by morning.

Most of us, fortunately, do not spend much time in hospitals and are therefore shielded from the current state of the A+E crisis. It’s plain they are cash starved, undermanned and struggling, being readied for privatisation. Given the overarching plutocratic trend in western politics, this seems inevitable, perhaps even overdue. Perhaps an Easter Saturday in A+E paints an exaggerated picture, but I am left with the indelible impression it may already be too late to do anything about it.

My children will leave university with £40,000 of debt, virtue of another crisis, and they will inherit a national healthcare system in such turmoil as to be useless to the point that even the evil of privatisation, of healthcare for profit, will seem the only viable solution to its ills. Our country is actually very wealthy, about 7.2 trillion according to the office for national statistics, and growing so it puzzles me the constant harking on about how much we have to cut pubic funding in order to save our skins, and how the vast majority of us are a lot worse off than we were. The middle classes are disappearing with the outsourcing of their traditional jobs, and the working class is losing its safety net while the moneyed minority pocket the nation’s wealth and drive about in motor cars worth more than my retirement pot. It gives one pause.

Driving to work this morning there was a car spun off the motorway, landing on its roof, an ordinary family saloon, glass everywhere. A little distance away was a bent Mercedes of the swanky company executive variety. A haze of blue lights surrounded them in a pouring rain that was streaked with snow – a bad morning for an accident. An ambulance made its way through traffic, doing its best against an ebbing tide. Pray God I thought, we never reach the stage were the paramedics want a swipe of your plastic first before they’ll touch you, and where the guy in the Mercedes gets priority because he has a gold health card in his wallet. Then I remembered the despair of an overwhelmed A+E on Saturday and hoped they were more fully staffed this morning. Rich or poor, when crisis hits, we all need the NHS.

So do be careful out there because the last thing you need in the current climate is to end up in A+E.

[Update May 2016 – the A+E department closed a few weeks after I wrote this. There is currently no indication when or if it will ever open again.]

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