Sometimes your worst fears come true. They can be small fears, like being landed with a parking ticket in the heart of the countryside on a Sunday afternoon when all you’ve done is to park up on a wide verge so as to take a walk across the moors. Or they can be large fears, like a seismic change to the world order with diabolical, ego-charged leaders chess-moving their way to positions of power that you fear will destabilize the whole planet. One of them has me exercised today. The clue is that it isn’t Sunday. On days (like today), when something occurs that I find bewildering, unbelievable, extraordinary, and deeply disappointing, I am reminded of something M. once said: ‘This is really happening.’
She and I were sharing a room with one other. The third person, from his blow-up mattress on the floor, was snoring so consistently and ferociously that he sounded like an old motorbike engine being turned off and on by someone with a personal vendetta to burn it out. The noise he emitted was extraordinary. It was so dramatic and intense that at first we thought he was surely play-acting; it must be a comedy snore. (Beware what lies behind play-acting and supposed comedy performances.) The truth dawned on us: his penetrating snore was real. We threw pillows, flicked water, ticked his feet, rolled him onto one side. Each tactic would give respite for seconds, but then the roaring would start up again. Beds were at a premium, the house was full with someone already on the sofa; we were out of options and he was out cold. That’s when she said it. Lying the dark, on the edge of hysteria, realising that our sleep had been ambushed and assaulted, she calmly stated: ‘This is really happening.’ And that’s when we dissolved into hysterics, laughing at the banality of it. Her words had surprised me, because often we greet an unwelcome turn of events with a disbelief and denial. Having briefly turned to incredulity that the perpetrator was getting away Scott-free with imitating the San Andreas fault line cracking open, it was time to accept it and work out our strategy. There was something in her words that allowed both of us to make a semblance of peace with the moment so that we were able, eventually, to fall asleep to the sound of a dying motorbike and not reach the morning sleep-deprived and cranky.
I suspect there have always been testing, trying periods in history that seemed unfair, unreasonable, and bizarre, so that people have shouted – ‘this is not really happening!’ Machiavelli wrote, ‘The Prince’ in 1514, in which he described tactical norms and effective qualities in politics: immoral behaviour, dishonesty and trampling the innocent. Five hundred years later and life is mirroring an ancient text. This isreally happening and we ought to actively concern ourselves with what is going rather than inactively worry about it. And we ought to get our sleep but stay awake to the acting and antics for sometimes our best efforts do not go amiss and all manner of things shall be well once more.