Entry 75: Another Saturday in Limbo– It’s simple for the atheists among us. There’s nothing. Believers of one sort or another, on the other hand, postulate one or more states of post-mortem being such as the eastern concept of Nirvana or the five abodes of Thomas Aquinas: heaven, hell, purgatory, limbo of children and limbo of the Patriarchs.
To this I would add those empty hours when everything worthwhile seems to be in abeyance. It is particularly sharp on Saturdays when the drudgery of the work-a-day week is over and the promises of the day telegraphed so alluringly in the days prior begin to wither under the gravity of listlessness and inertia that so often descends on the blank-eyed denizens of the dragging eons that seem to stretch out before them on what should be the best day of the week.
As I write this, though, I wonder if the capacity to be so intensely bored is a passing phenomenon- today’s netizen has only to glance at a smart phone or watch and give a curt command to the digital assistant to be instantly diverted by whatever whim is within reach. But when I wrote this song, in 1982, no such diversions were available. Reading books was always- and still, though to a lesser extent, alas-an antidote to the poisonous ennui that I seem to absorb through the pores.
I first read The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in 1979 and later devoured the BBC Radio Four adaptation when it was broadcast. Then the 1981 TV series eventuated and I looked down with superior disdain upon those who had only just discovered the wonderful creations of Douglas Adams. One of my favourites was Marvin, the Paranoid Android. In him, I found a template for my own angst. Here, he speaks,
I didn’t ask to be made: no one consulted me or considered my feelings in the matter. I don’t think it even occurred to them that I might have feelings.” Wikipedia supplies the true horror of his situation. As the menial labourer on the Heart of Gold spaceship, he grew immensely resentful of the insistence of his…masters… that he open doors, check airlocks and pick up pieces of paper. He reserved a particular contempt for the sentient doors, despising their blissful satisfaction with existence.
It is, of course, my practice to include bits of poems in these journal entries. So, here’s a stanza from a lullaby composed by Marvin which has the title How I Hate the Night,
Now I lay me down to sleep/Try to count electric sheep/Sweet dream wishes you can keep/How I hate the night.
And how I hate the night. When you snap awake at three in the morning and start to remember lines from Aubade by Phillip Larkin. I work all day and get half-drunk at night. That was me for over forty years. Taking refuge in prayer does not overwhelm that dry voice referring to that vast, moth-eaten musical brocade created to pretend we never die. In fifty lines, taking little over three minutes to recite, you can listen to the poet explicating our deepest existential fear on YouTube.
Well, back then it was Saturday morning and I was, as they say, at a loose end. My wife and kids were visiting her mother and I was alone with a guitar and feeling trapped. An Australian friend, visiting the year before had envied the setting in which I lived: in the heart of the Glens of Antrim, looking across Red Bay to Garron Point. My response? Yeah, it’s great-if you like living in a postcard.
So I stared out the kitchen window from the flatness of my postcard and made myself a cup of instant coffee. I looked out on the turned soil of the front yard, not much larger than a bedsheet. I was preparing the ground for…? Who knows? But it seemed a good idea at the time. I sat down and started strumming chords on the guitar, a fairly usual ploy to break the boredom. Searching in the fridge for something to snack on, I saw a block of processed cheese on which rested my younger son’s half-chewed teething rusk.
And I was bored no more. I had been reading in a recent Sunday supplement about the pop images of Mel Ramos and one, in particular, had stuck in my mind- his image of a nude pin-up poised on a giant block of Velveeta processed cheese, raised on one arm, her head turned over her shoulder towards the viewer, her elaborate, coiffed hairstyle proudly on show. You probably know it- he first drew this in 1965 and reprised it as recently as 2004. An example of pop-art sensibility at its best.
If Andy or Roy appeal to you, then Mel is worth checking out. His nudes adorn bottle tops, cocktail glasses, cigars as well as emerging from peeled bananas and lurking behind sauce bottles. I sat down at the table and started writing this song. I finished it just before my wife returned with the kids. And what are you looking so pleased about?, she demanded, as she manoeuvred the pram in through the door.