The Red Queen

To the extent (disputable) that I have had any conscious control over the man I am today, I might imagine that I have modelled myself on a small range of almost exclusively fictional characters.  I think I like to keep my ‘heroes’, or at least ‘role models’, fictional as one can usually rely on them not to suddenly reveal new, deeply troubling sides to their character.  This is rendered easier if I avoid unnecessary sequels and re-makes: where a turn to the dark appears to have been de rigeur for quite some time now.

A worrying number of these characters came from a handful of movies released between roughly 1985 and 1995, none of which could be considered entirely serious.  Other people have seminal music that still defines them from their teens, I must have been seeking my way in the world as I headed into my twenties: always a late developer…  I think we must also place considerable blame on the Fourth Doctor who entered my life during an earlier impressionable phase.

In practise, I suspect the man I am today, while clearly path-dependent, has been subject to almost no conscious direction and has just involved the accretion of random bits of other people (real, virtual and imaginary) that seem to have stuck: like pocket fluff to a forgotten boiled sweet.  The original sweet is still in there but all anyone (including the conscious me) now encounters is the multiple strata of fluff that have accumulated over the years (this metaphor does pre-suppose a very lax approach to laundry).

In fact, following the unexpected receipt of a meme – and the even more unexpected fact that I understood it – I have realised that in the game of life I have completely stopped pursuing the primary goal: indeed, I can no longer recall what it was or ever having tried to achieve it.  Instead, my life is comprised of an ever more Baroque selection of side quests.  Sometimes a side quest may be parked for a decade (or two) before I return to it, but very few are ever entirely abandoned.  I like to imagine, in the final reckoning, I will have built up a decent score: albeit, not one that will trouble people who have pursued the actual objective of the game.

I recently realised that one fictional character that I have come to resemble is the Red Queen, from Through the Looking Glass.  I tend not to think six impossible things before breakfast – though only because my metabolism requires the prioritisation of victuals and their ingestion pretty promptly upon waking.  I have to save my counter-factual thinking until I have some fuel in the tank.

I certainly share her tendency to derail any serious conversation with wordplay and other such nonsense: though there is no evidence that, if shaken, I will reveal myself to be a black kitten.

My main area of congruence with the Red Queen is in my need to be constantly in high-speed motion (not always of the physical variety: I mostly refuse to run), if only to devote at least some time-slice to my myriad side-quests.  There are always more things that I could be doing if only I could move faster: without hurtling through life at full pelt I will just lose ground to some perceived, if undefined, substrate.  I have the feeling the pace of this movement is accelerating as though my psyche is subject to some analogue of dark energy.: or perhaps, I just lack sufficient psychic dark matter to hold myself together…

Normally, my mad race to fit as much into any given period as possible only involves myself.  Others will see me from time-to-time and,  if they know me, are rarely surprised to see me in almost any location: even if they thought I was in a distant city a few moments previous.  I think some people suspect I have a number of identical siblings (or clones) or access to time travel…

However, on the evening of the Saturday before last, a friend came along for the full ride: I assume they had taken out suitable insurance in advance…  It was one of my finest performances: having started in the Guide Dog for some Bishopstoke courage, we departed for the evening’s musical delights at around 19:40.  At the end of the evening, I was safely in my own bed by midnight but somehow we managed to fit in four musical gigs in four different venues in the intervening time.  Even now, I’m not entirely sure how we achieved this – I am forced to assume that the speed of travel between venues must have led to a degree of relativistic time dilation.  Not only did we fit in four gigs, I also managed to invent a new cocktail: organic whisky with chocolate ice cream – it probably wouldn’t have been my first choice, but the venue was very short of alcohol and had no ice, so I had to extemporise.  It was surprisingly potable, but I don’t think Harry’s will be beating a path to my door in search of the recipe any time soon.

It was a seriously enjoyable evening but I fear it might form the basis of a sustainable life plan: though, to be fair, I have been living it for a few years now.  Could it be time for a change?

As part of a potentially dangerous experiment, for which ethical approval has not been sought in the expectation that it would be withheld, I shall be spending this next weekend in a very different way.  Despite a plethora of gigs in both Southampton and Cambridge that I am itching (or Itchen in the case of the local gigs) to attend, I am going to be cast away on a tiny island, like a modern day Robinson Crusoe (though hopefully I will be a little more ‘woke’ than Defoe’s ‘hero’: I do at least have my insomnia to fall back on).

My island will not be of the sand and palm tree variety, but rather a granite rock mostly covered in dry heath moored in the liminal space where the Bristol Channel and North Atlantic meet.  Yes, I am spending a long winter weekend on Lundy: an island without music venue, art gallery or theatre – though I am told there is a pub.  In theory, I shall be deposited there by helicopter on Friday morning and returned to the mainland on Monday morning.  In between, there is no escape!  Indeed, I believe the weather can get quite spicy, so I may find that I am unable to leave on Monday – though, at time of writing, the weather looks to be relatively clement.

The island is some 3 miles by 0.6 miles – so a circumnavigation on foot shouldn’t take long.  According to Wikipedia, the island has a few features of historic and scientific interest and there is some hope of sighting some interesting flora and fauna.

I shall not be there entirely alone as I am going with six friends – and I believe the island has a tiny resident population and may have a small number of other visitors.  I am told there is little or no mobile phone signal and no wifi: so I shall probably have no access to the internet for approaching 72 hours.  Will I cope?  Are the share prices of various social media companies tanking even now?  There is also no power overnight, so this excursion may be good practice for the future of the country as a whole…

All of this means that my life will be required to slow down significantly from its traditional break-neck pace.  There is a worrying risk that my actual thoughts may surface and not been drowned out by the constant stream of incident and moment that normally keeps them nicely out of sight/harm’s way.  What I have I been keeping locked in my mental attic?  Who is the previous Mrs Rochester in this metaphor?  The island has had a turbulent history, is its near future going to involve more of the same at my hands?

The people with whom I am sharing a large classical villa (I’m not slumming it on my island redoubt) all know me, however, we have – heretofor – experienced each other in managed doses with plenty of opportunity for escape, if required.  Since I have lived basically alone for more than 30 years now, I wonder what weird idiosyncrasies I have acquired in all that time that will come to light?  How terrifying am I on a 24/7 basis?

I shall be bringing plenty of reading material and, part of me, is viewing it as a writer’s retreat.  I am certainly planning to keep a Lund(iar)y either to bore you dear readers with upon my return or to act as a partial explanation for the bodies that will eventually be discovered.  It could also be the perfect time to finally write that sestina!  I have some hope that the villa will provide some space for hand balancing practice and I might get in some musical practice too.  Yes, I am already trying to convert an emotionally (if not climatically) tranquil retreat into my normal life.  Either that, I shall I channel Dylan Thomas and never leave the pub…

Will I return with a yen for the life of the hermit?  Will I return in a straight-jacket?  Will the Southampton cultural scene collapse in my absence?

Some of the questions posed in this post may be answered when (if) I return next week: stay tuned…