Notes from Nuneaton
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4th December 2010
What are we to do?
The economy is collapsing. The weather is gone mad. The rich and privileged are out of control in an orgy of greed and grab.
Society is imploding and savaging the weak.
The environment is all but destroyed. There is murder and mayhem on the streets.
Peaceful protest solicits indifference from the masses and extreme violence from the authorities.
The rights our grandparents won, with blood, sweat and tears, are being auctioned off for the price of a large screen plasma TV.
All over the world there are organisations persuading the poor to sacrifice themselves to protect the interests of the rich, who dangle the keys of the,
club, on retracting, rubber springs.
The turkeys are eagerly voting for Christmas, the Grinch has stolen reason and fund-a-mental faiths scramble to fill the vacuum.
One is tempted to climb into bed with a good novel and hope it is all a bad dream.
How can anyone stand against this hurricane of depressing reality?
Last Saturday I was feeling it all rather acutely. I had read the newspapers and browsed the net. I had chatted with friends and we had not managed to put the world to rights. Freezing rain was falling and I had a pain in my back.
I looked into the faces of my children and decided it was time to take them out to see the Christmas lights which were due to be turned on that evening in Nuneaton.
When we arrived in town there was no parking to be had and the traffic was made worse by the sleet, infuriatingly neither rain nor snow.
Despite this I witnessed three acts of quixotic politeness from drivers before we had circled the town completely.
Once the car was parked, we set out to see what we could find in the way of entertainment.
What would you say if you saw someone dancing about in a tutu in sub zero temperatures?
Me? I said nothing, I just smiled indulgently at the innocence and the blatant disregard for the impending end of civilisation as we know it.
Still reeling from the shock of this unwaranted optimism, we treated ourselves at one of the coffee shops that seem to be springing up everywhere.
As our hands thawed, the hubbub of conversation drifted from the annoying, to the companionable.
By the time the young French couple asked politely if they could have our table as we were leaving,
I was beginning to admit there might be the thinnest sliver of hope for some kind of post apocalyptic civilisation.
Re-girding our loins we pushed further into the town where there seemed to be people engaged in the making of music,
despite the bleak future and the perishing present.
The market was in full swing. I was consoling myself that at least commerce was living down to expectations.
Christmas turkeys ripe for plucking. Can you imagine my confusion when I saw hope in the center of the street?
Perception is projection. As my world weary heart began to thaw, there were cheerful elves and childhood hopes.
I started thinking about the people who put the world back together in the 1940's.
They emerged from the rubble and the blood and built a place for us to live. They gave us memories and dignity.
What was the economic debt of the world back then? Yet they put on their glad rags and smiled.
It was getting dark as I dragged my mind through 60+ years of freedom. We gathered in the rain by the town hall in the hope of something new. Some word from those entrusted with our care. What we got was something old. Older and deeper than the bones. Something from the blood. A sense of solidarity. A sense of what we share.
There was a voice, half rememberd as in a dream.
In the dark the song made goosebumps rise.
The raw perfection of the moment.
Then it was over leaving after-images in the ear.
It was just a girl in coat. Nothing strange at all.
Strange was just arriving,
and preparing to have a parade.
Then the mayor stepped out through the shadows.
Larger than life.
Full of fun.
A unique delegation we made,
the town crier, the mayor and us.
Into and out of the mall we trod,
where 'Tall Santa' got lost in the crush.
We followed the mayor in his finery,
as this roman was roamin' the streets.
Back at the start there were speeches and thanks
and the crowd counted down to the switch.
'Tall Santa' was quickly recovered,
very much to the childrens' relief.
And the lights?
The lights went on regardless
of the weather, the banks and the news.
The town dignitaries sang with the rest of us.
Sang of hope and of birth, in cold shoes.
In the freezing cold, those traditions played out
from the warmth of a past half behind us,
to a future that seems less than bright.
Did I find consolation that people came out in the cold and the rain to watch fireworks and cheer
when the switch was pulled to light the town with silly fairy lights?
Fun is always there. It is just beneath the surface all the time. Mostly it just requires a little kindness to kindle it to life.
I suspect that when we look back to write the history of this time, we will remember that this was the time that saved us from ourselves.
It will have been the time when we find each other again.
It will have been the time we shed the smoke and mirrors of consumerism for the solid ground of community.
It will have been when we discover that a little bit of kindness is all we really need.
Coda to my day:
When I got back to the parking, I did not have enough change. The the machine for accepting notes was broken. The children were cold and wanted to go home.
The guy working there grinned at me and I grinned at him. He wished me a happy Christmas and let me out for free.
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