It is easy to be dead

Or so I imagine.  Everyone seems to be able to manage it, reardless of wider ability (or lack thereof).  It is the ultimate equal opportunities employer: no discrimination on any grounds. I am, as is widely known, a terrible human being but believe that even I should be able to master the state given time.

I can only assume that it is this expectation of the cold embrace of death, looming on the horizon, that causes me to try and fit quite so much incident and moment into my remaining days.  How else am I to explain the very few hours I have spent in my own home over the last month?  If I’m not over the water for work, I am gadding about the country for pleasure: maintaining friendships and over-indulging in culture.  However, compared to some I seem to have achieved so little – which brings me rather neatly back to the reason for today’s title.

Many years ago, the great Tom Lehrer used to compare his accomplishments unfavourably to those of Mozart.  Whilst his musical output may be slightly less well-known, I strongly suspect he was the much better mathematician of the two which would make him the clear winner.  Having made so much less of a mark in either the public sphere or mathematics than Mr Lehrer, I have many people both today and historically to which I can make comparisons from which I emerge entirely overshadowed.  In an attempt to keep this post to a manageable size, I shall focus on just one such high achiever: Charles Hamilton Sorley.

“Who he?” you may ask (slightly ungramatically, I would note).  When I first encountered the name recently, I didn’t know either.  He was a poet, who worked in the period just before the start of the First World War and until his death at the Battle of Loos in the autumn of 1915.  He was highly thought of by both John Masefield and Robert Graves, to name but two (and two that I have heard of).  I was introduced to Mr Sorley by the Finborough Theatre who were planning to stage a play about him, written by their Artistic Director: Neil McPherson.  Such is the parlous state of so much of the arts, they were looking to crowd-fund a little money to help finance the endeavour.

Being the nosey chap I am, I had to seek out some of his work using the miracle of the internet: whilst my ignorance is vast, I am keen to have some superficial knowledge on as many topics as possible.  Having found CHS and some of his work, I was forced to agree with Messers Masefield and Graves: I absolutely loved his poetry.  Given that I would probably have passed through the rest of my life without encountering his work, I felt the least I could do was bung the Finborough a few quid by way of thanks.  This being the modern era of crowd-funding, my modest contribution did qualify me for a reward when the play was staged back in June.

So, one Saturday afternoon back in June, a friend and I headed off to the Finborough Theatre to see It is Easy to be Dead.  We both thought the play was wonderful: and for once, my eyes were not alone in being tear girt.  They play is constructed from Charlie’s writings and gives a glimpse into the life of an exraordinary young man.  Before his untimely death Charlie had led a surprisingly interesting life and had gained insights into life that I still struggle with at my age (and had certainly not managed at his).  We also got to meet the cast, producer and writer afterwards over a couple of very fine beers in the Finborough Arms (which acts as the foyer to the theatre).  This was a huge amount of fun and further increased my understanding of how the theatre (just about) works.  I even had a backstage tour of the Finborough – which covers a larger area than I had expected, but is still very small.  I now know that not only is Neil the Artistric Director, writes some of the plays and seems to answer most of the emails but he also does quite a lot of the painting (I’ve seen his overalls) and many of the odd jobs.  It really was one of the best night’s out I’ve ever had and made me love the Finborough even more.

Chatting with Alexander Knox who played Charlie, brought up comparisons with Patrick Leigh Fermor.  I was already primed to seek out his work, having been introduced to it by Nick Crane at an RGS talk given in Southampton a while back, and this provided the spur to actually read some.  Having now read the middle section of his walk from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople (having had it briefly liberated from the stacks at Southampton Library), I shall have to read the rest.  It was an extraordinary journey through a Europe that no longer exists – and, indeed, has been violently torn apart.  Plus, you have to respect a chap who was expelled from school for holding the hand of the greengrocer’s daughter!

I’ve only managed to make it back to the Finborough once since It is Easy to be Dead – a trip snuck in on my way back from Cambridge.  On that occasion I caught the Canadian play Proud by Michael Healey.  I really loved this play (and no crying was required) it was both funny and very interesting politically.  At the end I felt I had some understanding, and even respect, for Stephen Harper -the Conservative Canadian Politician.  This was not what I’d expected and perhaps not what Mr Healey intended.  Apparently the play was considered controversial in its home country, though if I were Mr Harper I’d take it as quite the compliment: as a politican, people can (and will) say far worse things about you.

Given my fondness for the Finborough, I was pleased to learn that it has once again been saved from a planning threat.  London needs more than just endless flats: surely egregiously wealthy foreigners could find something else to do with their surplus funds than buy London properly and leave it empy?  Are there no Perimership football clubs still available?  I was also excited to read that It is Easy to de Dead may transfer to the West End later this year, which would open it up to a much bigger audience than can fit into the modest confines of the Finborough.  It feels like my child (or at least a friend’s child) is achieving success in the world which is always lovely.

Keeping tabs on the undead

The zombie would seem to be taking over from the vampire as the undead genre of choice at the moment.  Not quite sure what produced this shift, but I guess your typical zombie is much less demanding on the script-writing front, so it may be a budget-led decision.

I tend not to be much of a fan of the zombie – my respect for the second law of thermodynamics leaves me with a visceral distrust of them.  Having said that, the BBC has produced (and in one case, rather foolishly cancelled) two decent zombie-style series in the last couple of years:  The Fades and In the Flesh.  I also really enjoyed Warm Bodies – both the movie and the original book – so perhaps my hard-line positioning is weakening(though all my examples to include rather atypical zombies).

In the news yesterday, G4S were referred to the Serious Fraud Office for allegedly defrauding the UK taxpayer of millions of pounds.  I seem to recall that it was this self-same G4S who so singularly failed to recruit sufficient security staff for last year’s London Olympics.  At that time, they were the second largest employer of their kind in the world – presumably they would have been the largest if they’d been a tad more competent with the hiring.  Casting my mind back a little further, I seem to remember this same company was also justly famed for losing prisoners or delivering them to the wrong places.  It would seem that repeated incompetence and failure is no barrier to success if your client is the government – indeed, it seems to be a prerequisite (though perhaps only if you are a private company willing to bankroll the gravy train that seems to have largely replaced UK politics).

Anyway, one of the frauds of which G4S stands accused is charging the taxpayer to monitor the whereabouts of the dead – via electronic tags, I believe.  Given their rather difficult relationship with competence, perhaps this is as far as one might expect their capabilities to run – in general, the quick are far more tricksy to keep tabs on than the dead.  But, I prefer to be more charitable – let’s face it, we all need to be a lot more charitable given the rather rapid destruction of support for the arts and society’s weakest members.  I am aware that several councils have had FoI requests to discover what disaster planning they have in place to cope with a zombie apocalypse.  My response would be a reminder of the aforementioned second law of thermodynamics – but perhaps I’m just being wilfully blind to the approaching threat.  Perhaps we will all be glad that G4S has apparently been putting in so much effort to tracking the dead when they start rising from their graves and shambling after us seeking our brains for nourishment.  Then again, the more I see of the news the more I fear that the undead will find rather thin pickings in the grey matter department when they look to humanity to provide neuronal nibbles.

Perhaps their earlier failings were an attempt to boost falling incomes in the police and military and a brave, early attempt to tackle prison over-crowding.  Or perhaps I am allowing my charitable nature to overcome my common sense..