January 31, 2006

Marx hits the spot

Now: MPs have expressed concern over the Church of England's plan to sell off affordable housing amid a claim it is "only interested in profit".

Then: "The English Established Church...will more readily pardon an attack on 38 of its 39 articles than on 1/39 of its income."

January 30, 2006

But he was famous long ago

It's Boris Spassky's sixty-ninth birthday today. I saw him on Thursday: he came out of the main hall in my Marianske Lazne hotel and walked right past me in the corridor. From my copy of Dnes the following morning I understood, in so far as my holiday Czech would permit, that he was going to spend his birthday in Karlovy Vary: presumably taking the waters and hoping, like all the other rotund pensioners, that they would somehow roll back his waistline and his years alike.

It's a good way to be a celebrity: to be famous among only a small section of the population, or at least recognisable onto to a few, though your name might be, as Spassky's once was, known across the world. No paparazzi (save the slow-witted English chessplayer photographing you as you descend the stairs) and very little press attention. Just enough, perhaps, to remind you, as you close your seventh decade, that you are remembered: just enough to make you feel good about yourself, feel you made your mark.

But no need to escape the attention, to live behind high walls with security guards. No need to accept the consequences of celebrity, to be greeted by total strangers and expected to be pleased to see them, no need to acknowledge their desires to mak their mark on your life and have them make a mark on yours. No need to be asked for autographs to prove that your path once crossed theirs. The occasional requirement to be applauded at an event which you can choose whether or not to attend: other than that, the open air, the shops, the streets like any other person, away from the insanities of celebrity and its consequences which, almost as much as shopping, define the culture in which we live. A culture of money is one that worships the successful: and because one cannot be successful any more than one can be a saint, we touch the living celebrity just as we used to touch the relics of the sainted dead.

None of that, for Boris Spassky - or just the shadow of it, just enough. None of the fear of being recognised, the persistent fear of lunatics, the constant resentment of intrusion. It is a healthy world, where those who have excelled can mix without discomfort with those who have just watched them and appreciated. Such a state of affairs, of course, depends entirely on those who excel not getting everything they want: upon them not receiving the enormous financial rewards which make a bridgeless separation between them and the community from which they spring.

No doubt the film stars and sportsmen believe that their wealth is, in part at least, a compensation for the fact that they are denied an ordinary life: no doubt that they are, in part at least, quite right to think so, because if people are to be denied that life they they must surely be allowed to live some other way. But it is unquestionably the wealth itself which produces the problem of which they complain: the cult of celebrity and all its attendant phenomena. Nobody bothers the genius who lives in the house next door: only the famous end up, not like the happy Boris Spassky, who could stand in any London street and not be noticed, but like the hapless Bobby Fischer - hiding from the world for half his life, almost as famous for the consequences of fame as he was originally famous for his talent.
You would not think to look at him
But he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin
On Desolation Row.
It was also, today, another anniversary: another less famous than once it was. Less famous than it ought to be: it is the anniversary of probably the most significant day in all this country's history, a day with greater consequences for politics, government and religion than any other. Yet it is the best-kept secret in England: it is a secret we have hidden from ourselves. It goes uncommemorated: in fact it goes unspoken, undiscovered. Its significance is not known, because its meaning is never debated: its existence is not known because the fact of its happening is never mentioned. Ask people what happened on 30 January - give them even the clue that it is, in your opinion, the most important thing that ever happened in the country's history, and still the answer is not come.

Well, you say, England can be an ignorant country when it comes to history, and few of its people know much more of that history than the date 1066 and the outcome of the War. Maybe so. But I was on a bus through Westminster this morning and I saw the statue of Oliver Cromwell that stands (with much unmentioned irony) outside the House of Commons. It was surrounded by scaffolding, as was much of the building, and the effect was to make the man seem even more hidden, more obscure.

Nobody was taking his picture, nobody was standing on tghe pavement contemplating his monument and its meaning. Nobody, on this anniversary: like Boris Spassky, Cromwell can pass unnoticed on a British street. But Boris Spassky was World Champion, and did play Bobby Fischer. What happened on 30 January really happened. When a tree falls in the forest, though there be no-one there to hear it, it still makes a sound.

January 24, 2006

Dawning of the age

They have the radio on during the buffet breakfast at my hotel: at some point yesterday I was surprised to hear it play Aquarius. I don't often get to hear that record, but when I do it always reminds me of a conversation I had with a girl called Dawn I used to work with at the DSS in Oxford nearly twenty years ago. She was saying that her birthday was coming up and I asked her what her star sign was. She told me Capricorn (or something) and I said that was a shame: if only it had been Aquarius. Because then, it would have been the ageing of the Dawn in Aquarius. She gave me a funny look.

January 20, 2006

Four out of four

Talking of traffic and accidents, I'm off to the Czech Republic for a week or so, to play in a chess tournament in Marianske Lazne. I'm flying to Prague, where I stayed for a week in 1997. I remember it well: but as much as anything else I remember the reckless driving. Not reckless for speed, so much as for direction. I never saw anybody get hurt, but I did see a lot of accidents.

Four, in fact, in the first four days I was there. Nor, when I say I saw them, do I mean I saw the aftermath, four broken cars beside the road with police cars and tow trucks in attendance. I mean I saw four collisions, cars coming together and bouncing away again, describing a slow parabola until coming to rest: nobody hurt, or even, as far as I could see, particularly distressed. Or even surprised: as if nothing had happened, or as if this really did happen every day.

January 19, 2006

De omnibus disputandum

Until quite recently I lived in Brixton and in the morning, cutting it fine as I made my way to work, I used to catch a bus up the Effra Road if one threatened to overtake me on my way to Brixton Underground Station. Travelcards have that effect: if there is a bus, you find yourself taking one automatically, even if only for a couple of stops, even if you could probably get there just as quickly under your own steam.

A little more than sometimes, when I got across Brixton Road to the station, the gates would be closed, the station unaccessible due to some problem inside or further up the Victoria Line and I would have to phone through to the answerphone at work while wondering if there was any other way of getting in without being late. There wasn't: even if I squeezed myself onto an overground train to Victoria with all the other refugees from the Underground, I wouldn't make it on time, and none of Brixton's multitude of buses had any chance of getting me across London in an hour, not at that time of the morning.

Still, they were more than handy at other times of the day, when I wanted to go into town , or even if I just wanted to go a short way up the road to Stockwell, to my chess club, in the evenings. Sometimes the Tube would be shut then, as well, or perhaps I just felt like changing buses, or the one I'd caught on Effra Road didn't go to Stockwell after leaving Brixton. I'd change buses on Brixton Road and then get out, at Stockwell station, walking the last few hundred yards if I were going to the club. Or perhaps, if Brixton station had been closed and I had some other destination in mind, nipping into Stockwell station.

The funny thing is, after all that messing about - nobody ever shot me dead for it.

Matter of fact I was never even wounded.

January 18, 2006

Decline and fall

There's nothing quite like a live performance. On Monday night I went to La Traviata at the Royal Opera House: the last time I saw the opera it was on a television above a hospital bed. I passed from death to life: Violetta passed from life to death. I didn't really appreciate that at the time. I wasn't really in a position to.

It's a fine place to see La Traviata, and at the same time it doesn't really work there as it should. It's an opera about a fall, a fall from a life of finery in the first scene to a death on poverty in the last: the contrast is at the centre of everything and for that contrast to be meaningful, for it to be more than just a change of scenery behind the curtain, the contrast has to be felt. But how can you feel that contrast when that opening scene, high society at play, with dancing and footmen and dinner jackets and drinks, is no contrast at all to the audience? To me it looked much the same as the Champagne Bar in which much of the audience (though not, alas, myself) had spent the period just prior to the curtain coming up.

It's hard to feel privilege, when you possess it: it's hard to feel its loss unless you lose it. Or unless you've never had it anyway, but have had the chance to see it, touch it, look at it not just nose-against-the-window but in the same room. You can get that experience, at the opera: you can hardly avoid it. And after that, you go home, through the rain, on the 176: you have the same music running through your head as everybody else, but, perhaps, a different set of thoughts entirely.

January 17, 2006

January 17, 1956

America I've given you all and now I'm nothing.
America two dollars and twentyseven cents January 17, 1956.

America has been my favourite poem for twenty years: only Song of Myself has come close to extricating it from that position, which given Ginsberg's own identification with Whitman is not so surprising. To read Ginsberg is to be reminded of Whitman: supposing, that is, that one has read them both. Perhaps that is the reason for my preference: the way it turned out, it was Ginsberg I read first.

I was introduced to Ginsberg in a talk by the late David Widgery, who enthused about Howl for long enough - and well enough - to induce me to buy a copy of Ginsberg's Selected Poems, a copy which I have flicked through many times since, in the time since I first read it, in a period that now encompasses half the time that I have lived. (To my annoyance I have looked for the copy in vain over the past week, but cannot find it. It has given me its all and now it's nothing.)

I never took to Howl, finding it too difficult to understand its rhythm, although its opening, once heard, is hard to let go:

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
a line which sometimes brings to mind Pia Zadora, who recites the line at Ricki Lake in Hairspray: but which, a little more profoundly, brings itself to mind whenever I read, or think about, Christopher Hitchens. The best mind of my generation, one of the best at any rate, and destroyed, destroyed in all its purpose, by the consequences of someone else's madness.

The best minds of my generation: I am from a generation which lost its way, or saw that way disappear before the journey even started. Perhaps that is why we find our consolation in the querulous poetry of half a century ago. It is fifty years today since Ginsberg completed his great poem, at Berkeley.

It is less celebrated than Howl, if easier to grasp, and as I say, I found the Howl mostly eluded me until, one evening, I saw some film of Ginsberg reciting from Kaddish:
All the accumulations of life, that wear us out—clocks, bodies, consciousness,
shoes, breasts—begotten sons
and understood consciously what I had only previously felt about America, that it was the recitation that gave the poems their rhythm. That one could only understand their tone and their changes of tone if one imagined them being spoken rather than read. America has the form and texture of a conversation, albeit a one-way conversation, half a conversation, Ginsberg bouncing complaints at accusation against America as one might bounce a tennis ball against a wall. America delivers itself more easily to the reader. Ginsberg addresses America as one might address oneself.
It occurs to me that I am America.
It is more of a harangue than a soliloquy, but more of an appeal than a harangue.
I won't write my poem until I'm in my right mind.
It isnt true: Ginsberg never finds his right mind, never settles, never - until, possibly, right at the end when the poem is already written - descides what his point is, what it is that he would actually like to say. There is a whole series of apparently unconnected questions and accusations, if not non-sequiturs, with which he begins:
America when will you be angelic?
When will you take off your clothes?
When will you look at yourself through the grave?
When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?
America why are your libraries full of tears?
America when will you send your eggs to India?
I'm sick of your insane demands.
When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I
need with my good looks?
America after all it is you and I who are perfect not
the next world.
Your machinery is too much for me.
You made me want to be a saint.
He continues:
There must be some other way to settle this argument
I should hope so too, the reader is likely to respond, for as yet it is no argument at all. But Ginsberg has got his excuses in early:
I don't feel good, don't bother me
he says. (He finds an echo eight years later in Bob Dylan:
Right now I don't feel too good
Don't send me no more letters, no
Not unless you mail them from
Desolation Row.
Ginsberg addresses America as if it were America who were bothering him rather than he who were addressing America. He objects:
I'm trying to come to the point
and fobs America off
America stop pushing I know what I'm doing
and as soon as America has given him the space to string some lines together, he pulls America up as if it were America whose attention had become distracted:
I'm addressing you.
Perhaps America was looking out of the window:
America the plum blossoms were falling.
Indeed, for much of the poem Ginsberg adopts the tone almost of a schoolchild, teasing, changing his mind as often as he may, putting on silly voices, singing nonsense songs. He tells America that he's been naughty:
I smoke marijuana every chance I get
and has no intention of doing as he's told:
I won't say the Lord's Prayer.
What's more, he's not about to apologise:
America I used to be a communist when I was a kid
I'm not sorry

It's the opposition of the adolescent (when I was a kid) which means defiance of the pieities, the norms of the adult world - but no more than that, a testing of the boundaries, a healthy desire to have those boundaries justified.

Well? says Ginsberg. It is America who accuses me of failing to grow up:

Are you going to let your emotional life be run by
Time Magazine?....

.... It's always telling me about responsibility. Business-
men are serious. Movie producers are serious.
Everybody's serious but me.
So let me not be serious: let me be what you say I am and then I'll tell you what I think of you. What are you telling me, businessmen, movie producers?
Asia is rising against me.
Really, it is? Well what shall I do about it? I'd better be serious:
I'd better consider my national resources
or not so serious
My national resources consist of two joints of
marijuana millions of of genitals an unpublishable
private literature that goes 1400 miles an hour
and twenty-five thousand mental institutions
or perhaps more serious than I was letting on?
twenty-five thousand mental institutions.
Perhaps the people forgotten in those mental institutions are something we should be serious about. Not to mention a few others:
I say nothing about my prisons nor the millions of
for who would be so lacking in seriousness as to mention them? Only somebody as silly as this:
My ambition is to be President despite the fact that I'm a Catholic.
So who is silly? Is it Ginsberg or is it America, in so far as he distinguishes himself from them? America, he asks,
how can I write a litany in your silly mood?
Well, let us be serious then. Businessmen are serious and who more serious than Henry Ford? Ford constructed and sold cars - Ginsberg constructed poems and so, as the businessman to whose seriousness he aspires, he must try and sell us some.
my strophes are as
individual as his automobiles more so they're
all different sexes.

America I will sell you strophes $2500 apiece $500
down on your old strophe
Ginsberg, I said, needs to be imagined read out loud: when he offers us his part-return poems I always imagine him laughing out loud. But Ginsberg is serious again. Look, if we are to talk of Henry Ford, here are some forgotten slogans of that era. Do you remember them?
America Sacco & Vanzetti must not die
America I am the Scottsboro boys.
Ginsberg remembers.
America when I was seven momma took me to Com-
munist Cell meetings....the
speeches were free everybody was angelic and
sentimental about the workers it was all so sin-
cere you have no idea what a good thing the
party was in 1835
and if it was all a very long time ago (in 1835) and if it is no longer quite what he believes in (I used to be a communist when I was a kid) then it nevertheless deserves to be remembered for what it really was, not dirtied by the slanders of a paranoid imagination.
must have been a spy.
Is that really what you think, America? Well, how can one argue with somebody who believes such nonsense?

And that is why Ginsberg addresses America as if he were a kid: as if he were a kid who taunts his stupid schholmate, reciting his stupid opinions in a stupid voice.
America you don't really want to go to war.
Ginsberg rolls his eyes.
America it's them bad Russians.

Them Russians them Russians and them Chinamen.
And them Russians.

The Russia wants to eat us alive. The Russia's poer
mad. She wants to take our cars from out our

....That no good. Ugh.
Doh, says Ginsberg.
Him make Indians learn read. Him need big black niggers. Hah. Her make us
all work sixteen hours a day. Help.
Help indeed. After that, there comes the punchline: for all these ridiculous questions, for all these non-sequiturs, for all this senseless gabbling, there is a reason. It is that the impressionistic nonsense reflects an impression of nonsense.
America this is quite serious
His voice is sharp, raised, direct: he is looking straight at you.
America this is quite serious.
This is the impression I get from looking in
the television set.
It is: it is a world full of threats and enemies. America, this is quite serious. In every sense, it is serious. Because this is the America with which Whitman identified himself. As did Whitman, so does Ginsberg:
America I've given you my all.
For what? For two dollars and twenty-seven cents? For twenty-five thousand mental institutions? For the madness he sees when looking in the television set? Well, let it be so, then, for Ginsberg cannot detach himself from America:
It occurs to me that I am America.
and he will serve if America wants him to. But it will be he who serves. It will be Ginsberg as he is.
America I'm putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.

It is a great poem. It will be forgotten today, as forgotten as it ought to be remembered, as silent as it ought to be spoken. It should be spoken on the steps of every town hall in America. Because if it were, we would get a different impression, of a different America, than the impression we get from looking in our television sets.

January 14, 2006

Five out of five

Watching the darts on telly always puts me in mind of Tom. Tom was at college with me twenty years ago and in the first year lived just along the corridor. He never did much: he also lived (as I did) in the bar, where he exhibited an aptitude for darts as prodigious as his work was not. I played him many times and I am not sure I ever took a game off him, certainly never one in which he could be bothered to concentrate, even if his means of acquiring that concentration was to let me build up a big lead first, much as some writers cannot write until a deadline is almost upon them.

One game in particular I remember. Tom had got down to twenty, with two of his three darts remaining, while my score was still in three figures and probably still closer to my starting score than it was to a double. Having beaten me far too often to render the mundane task of victory even slightly stimulating, he decided to spice it up a little by inviting me to select a more challenging finish than the obvious double ten. I suggested he oblige me by hitting double five twice successively instead: it's hard enough to hit a double first time even if you're a champion, twice in a row (and double five is not the easiest one to hit) would surely be beyond even Tom.

It was like Robin Hood, stepping backwards to split a wand with his arrow from a hundred and fifty paces rather than a hundred: such things happen only in myth. But Tom stepped back to the oche, looked up to the board to pick out the double five and hit it at his first attempt - and as I shook my head, he hit it with his one remaining dart as well.

Only on one other occasion have I been on the receiving end of such a feat. I once played a chess tournament in Stroud with a clubmate of mine, Jesse Kraai, who was from New Mexico but was in England to study. During a break between rounds he made me a bet that he could beat me in five consecutive blitz games, a pound per game: and although he was a better player than I, he would even the odds by taking time off his clock every time he won a game. The first game would be played at five minutes apiece, but if he won it (as he did) he would play the second with four minutes, the third with only three and so on.

So he played the second game with four minutes, the third with three and the fourth with only two, and each time he knocked me over. The final game he played with what seemed to me an impossible one minute on the clock: how many moves can you play with only one minute to make them all and your opponent simply needing to avoid checkmate before your flag falls?

But Jesse had had his upbringing in American chess, where blitz play (and, for that matter, blitz for money) was far more common than it was here, and he knew how to stretch his sixty seconds by using my time as effectively as he used his. A crowd had gathered as the sequence of games progressed and by the time that Jesse delivered mate and I handed him his fiver, there was shouting and cheering all around the board. If they had been any more excited, they would have pìcked him up and carried him on their shoulders out of the playing hall and into the streets.

No crowd was there to see Tom hit his double double five: our game was played in an mostly empty corner of a mostly empty bar. But I saw it. I invited him to do it. And I remember it after all these years.

January 13, 2006

Howells of decision

It appears that it is Kim Howells who has been permitting sex offenders to work in schools, rather than, they say, his boss. (Which assumes that she is his boss, which would suggest that they work for the same organisation rather than one of them actually working for Opus Dei. But I digress.)

I don't suppose the general public are much aware of Dr. Howells' existence, a fact that would quite likely disappoint him. I've followed his career since he organised the back-to-work movement in the South Wales coalfields that put an end to the miners' strike twenty years ago. Since then his progress has been slow, though he has perhaps fared rather better than the aforementioned coalfields and their inhabitants. If he's come to public prominence at all it's probably for his attacks on contemporary art.

Personally I remember him for declaring "comrades, embrace capitalism!" - when and where, I don't recall precisely. I do recall that some years ago I saw the Member of Parliament for Pontypridd emerging from the WH Smith next to Cardiff Central station with a copy of the Financial Times under his arm. L'esprit d'escalier: he'd walked just that little bit too far by the time I thought to ask him, indicating the newspaper he was clutching, whether, by Comrades, embrace capitalism, that was what he'd meant. But the moment was lost.

January 10, 2006

Creeping Jesus

George Orwell, 1937:
...then there is the outer-suburban creeping Jesus, a hangover from the William Morris period, but still surprisingly common, who goes about saying "Why must we level down? Why not level up?" and proposes to level the working class "up" (up to his own standard) by means of hygiene, fruit-juice, birth-control, poetry, etc. Even the Duke of York (now King George VI) runs a yearly camp where public-school boys and boys from the slums are supposed to mix on exactly equal terms, and do mix for the time being, rather like the animals in one of those 'Happy Family' cages where a dog, a cat, two ferrets, a rabbit, and three canaries preserve an armed truce while the showman's eye is on them.
Tony Blair, 2006:
If we're not careful, we can fall into the old heresy of levelling down, rather than levelling up.

Leaping Jesus

I saw the Grand Prix Priest on Sunday, underneath London Bridge, dancing a jig while waving a banner advertising the Second Coming. I was walking along the South Bank, from Waterloo Bridge to Tower Bridge by way of the Tate Modern. Spattered with rain, more cold and damp than one can be in comfort, I was just at the end of the stretch where the path slips away from the riverside itself and picks its way through the streets just off the river before it returns to the bank just after Southwark Cathedral.

I passed the cathedral, having briefly considered a period of sanctuary within, and coming back within sight of the river, I also found myself within hearing range of an Irish jig playing over a music system of some description. It was not loud enough to be a public performance so I assumed it was likely to be a busker, a busker with an instrument but accompanied by recorded music. (A gambit, I should say, which always fails in its purpose, if its purpose be persuading money from my wallet. I'll pay for a performance, but not for one somebody else recorded earlier.)

Turning right along the bank and dipping under the bridge, I saw - to my surprise, if it were possible any more to be surprised by the things one sees in London - a manic man, looking a little like Catweazle with a haircut and a recent change of clothing, cavorting in front of a CD player in a fashion which, if passably disorganised, was still enthusiastic. As he danced, he waved a banner - a banner scarcely any smaller than he was himself - which advertised not only the aforementioned Second Coming but his own status as a celebrity.

I walked past without hindrance. Without, in fact, even noticing whether he was collecting money, either for himself or for some religious cause. Possibly, given the imminence of the Apocalypse, he didn't think it necessary. I might have given him a fiver if he could have persuaded God to turn off the rain for the duration of the afternoon, but as he was located under the bridge he possibly lacked faith that a Divine Rethink - rather more rare than Divine Retribution - was on the cards.

He may even have been thinking that the rain was the precursor to a second Flood, or even the beginning of the same Divine Procedure. If that were the case, he might have been better off seeking the high ground rather than taking up station by the river. But of course, London is short of mountains. So one does what one can.

January 04, 2006

I spy for the RSI

I have a twinge in my right arm, a dull, inconstant pain. It's been with me for about five or six weeks, appearing suddenly, no small twinges as precursors. It's a peripatetic pain: it appears sometimes in the upper arm, sometimes in the lower arm and sometimes towards the wrist. Sometimes present, sometimes faded for a while, it shows no signs of weakening since I left work two weeks ago and stopped the constant click-click-clicking of a mouse which used to be integral to my job for several hours a day and which I am sure is the long-term cause of a pain which is absent from my left arm but present, I pray not permanently, in my right.

I have moved the mouse to the left side of the keyboard: it is odd, unsettling, to try and move it with a hand that is not only weaker, but which moves it in the other direction from the one expected. The cursor slides off the screen and returns in a place I did not anticipate, and controlling it feels as if I was giving instructions to a third party: right, left, back a bit, you missed it that time, try again. The right-click and left-click too confuse me and I find myself closing down applications that I wanted and opening ones I've never seen before: but these are small inconveniences, the price of losing some functions of an arm for a short period. I hope, assume, believe that the pain will fade if I release the right arm from some of its duties for a while. I had, after all, already handed in my notice when the pain began (or, I suppose, when it first became strong enough for me to notice it, which is not entirely the same thing).

I had a lot of back trouble in the last few months at work, probably down to stress rather than a poor workstation, since mine was adequate enough. That longstanding problem seems to have left me for a while, but the newer problem remains. It is not intolerable - it is not even painful in the sense of something that would make you wince or grimace, let alone cry out. But it is uncomfortable and awkward and it is painful enough if I try to support myself with my right arm. It has once or twice disturbed my sleep and it disturbs my peace of mind. I can let it alone for a while, for weeks perhaps, for even longer if I feel it fading. But I shall become fearful if the pains remains, or becomes worse.

It is, I am sure, an RSI problem, and I know from the accounts of others that problems like those can stay with you permanently, rendering your hand unusable, or usable only with persistent pain. That frightens me. It is not what I expect to happen but it frightens me nonetheless, not just because it is possible but because assuming it is not how things turn out, it might have been nevertheless. Escape a serious accident, cross the road when you should not and hear the blare, too close, of someone's horn, and it is only when you reach the other side that you realise what you nearly did. That is shock: it gives you just time enough to get across before it lets you realise how you feel.

So I find myself thinking: Christ, suppose I had not stopped work? Even this month, when I am home but getting paid for it in a month of gardening leave before I am on my own, suppose that I had worked that month instead? Would that month have been enough to wreck my arm for good? How fast was I rushing towards the edge of the cliff and how close to it had I come? Once I start thinking that I've got away with it, the thought that I may, indeed, have really got away with it, maybe as close as a single page of a calendar, frightens me almost as much as the thought of permanent damage to the arm itself.

We work in pain much of the time, many of us. The body ages and the body gets damaged. It's understood. It may be the result of negligence or accident or lack of knowledge or simply age and the actuarial likelihood of something going wrong. It happens sometimes and we live with it, or learn to live with it. But the sheer fact that we do live with pain itself deserves restating simply because it is forgotten. Like so much else in a society which seems sometimes to be based on the denunciation of those weaker than us, the issues of sickness and sick leave are carried out against a tide of aggression in which sick leave is assumed to be excessive and assumed to be the product of malingering and assumed to be a cost which we need to cut down at the expense of someone else. Get 'em, get 'em, is the cry, even if it is not put in those terms.

But compared to what we hear about people who receive sick pay when they are not sick, what shall we hear about those who work when they are sick? Of those who are sick because they worked when they should not? I am fearful, sometimes. Sometimes, as today, I am fearful for myself. Sometimes, I am fearful and I do not know why. But sometimes I am fearful because so much that we do is stupid and malign and the consequence of malign stupidity is almost always the suffering of the weak.