Well, we have six months. That’s what the EU’s 27 have granted our demented PM. Six months to radically and dramatically pull back from the worst decision a nation has made for itself. But will it? I can see things dragging on for months yet with no-one making a decisive break with the foolishness. And all the time our relationship with the EU will worsen, more businesses will pull out of the UK, more businesses here will find it difficult to do business in the EU. Leavers and Remainers still distrusting (understatement) each other.
I had a lovely afternoon at the Abergavenny Writing Fest. I was on a panel with three other wonderful writers discussing whether “everyone has a novel in them.” For the record I think the answer is no. However for those that think they do it is just a matter of getting down to it and the dream is attainable. Whether it is publishable and marketable is another matter, but who am to judge that with my ten novels not troubling the bestseller lists. The discussion was interesting and lively and we each got a chance to promote ourselves. I even sold a book. Attendance was good – the room was full. Okay, not a vast tent like you get at Hay, but people paid real money to hear us and I think were more than satisfied. Organisation was good and the Kings Arm Hotel was an excellent venue.
This week’s short story offering is a curate’s egg I think. The theme was “ologies”, derived from Maureen Lipman’s ad for BT decades ago. Probably their most memorable bit of advertising. For some reason the scene of this story came into my head. The story itself is pretty meaningless but it hung together and I just had to get it down. See what you think.
The Three Savants
From the clifftop I saw a sweep of sand, a heap of pebbles at the high-water line and rocks at the base of the headlands. Lazy waves rolled ashore, and the Sun was already well above the horizon. Three small shacks were spaced out across the beach and I wondered who might be inhabiting them. I took the path down.
The first hut stood on the sand and was constructed from branches and logs with a roof of reeds cut from the marsh beside the stream that meandered into the bay. There were no windows but a doorway that was open. I peered inside. A figure was kneeling on a mat laid on the damp sand.
“Hello,” I said.
The thin, grey-haired figure clothed in a rough gown opened one eye and examined me.
“Come in, my friend,” he said, rising to his feet. His head almost brushed the underside of his roof. “How may I help you?” he added.
I ducked inside the low entrance and discovered that there was little room for two people in the hut which was unfurnished but for the occupant’s mat. Nevertheless, he bade me to sit, and I copied his example of sitting cross-legged.
“I was just passing and wondered what you are doing here,” I said.
“Seeking enlightenment,” he answered, “What do you seek on your journey.”
“Oh, happiness, I suppose.” I tossed back.
“Ah, happiness,” he said sagely, nodding.
“Do you know the secret of achieving happiness?” I asked, somewhat cheekily.
He smiled. “Love God,” was all he said.
“Which one?” I queried.
He shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. Theology shows us that there are many interpretations of the one God.”
“So you’re a theologist,” I said, “I have no experience of God, how can I love him, her, it, whatever?”
“You obey his commands and worship him. You will learn to love him,” the theologist said rocking on his buttocks.
“Obey, you say. How do I know what God wants me to do?”
“A priest, or rabbi or imam, will tell you.”
“Ah, I see,” I said realising, “I have to do what people tell me.”
He shrugged. “That’s religion.”
I looked around the dark, damp hut. “Are you happy?” I asked.
He looked sad. “I am until the sea comes and fills my hut, or the wind blows and it falls down.”
I laughed, “That’s because you’ve built your home on sand which gets covered by the tide.” I got to my feet. “If that is how your theology has guided you then it’s not for me.”
I left him sitting there and hurried along the beach to the second hut. This was constructed on the pebbles beside the stream. It was built out of bits of surfboard, painted planks for doors, and plastic bottles. Its roof was shopping bags piled on to top of each other. I carefully opened the door made of clear plastic. There was a couch inside on which lay a figure wearing what appeared to be just a towel around his waist. He too was thin and grey-haired.
“Come in, come in,” he said, rising from his bed and beckoning me to sit or lie on it. After a considerable walk and an uncomfortable squat in the theologist’s hut I leapt at the chance of a comfortable seat. Except that it wasn’t, comfortable that is. The covering was torn and bits of stuffing had fallen out leaving it bumpy. Also, it stood on a floor of pebbles so it wasn’t level. I struggled to avoid rolling off it.
“Well, what brings you here?” he said, crouching down beside me.
“I suppose it is the search for happiness,” I said, thinking of my previous conversation.
“Ah,” he sighed, “Happiness is all in the mind.”
Well, a comfortable bed, good food, and a warm Sun, would help, I thought, but I had to agree that what we feel has a lot to do with how we think.
“But how does one achieve happiness,” I asked.
“Psychology gives us many clues to how the mind can lull us into a feeling of contentment,” he said.
“Ah, I see. You’re a psychologist,” I said, “Can you suggest one way that works?”
He frowned, “Ah. That would be taking the wrong step. First we must explore the reasons why you do not feel happy and your history of unhappiness.”
“But I’m not unhappy,” I said, “not really. I was just wondering if you had a way of making anyone happy.”
“Generalising from a small data set is unreliable. I would need to thoroughly investigate your thought processes to even begin to suggest a course of therapy.”
“You would devote your life to analysing me and I may not end up happy.”
He shrugged. “That’s psychology.”
“What about you? Are you happy?” I said.
“There is an inverse correlation between my happiness and the rain,” he said.
“Oh, why’s that.”
“When the rain falls, the stream floods and my hut is washed away.”
“Well, why did you build it on the unstable pebbles so close to the stream? Can’t your psychology give you a better idea.” I leapt from the couch and strode out of the hut on to the beach.
There was one more hut to visit, at the end of the beach on an outcrop of rock. It appeared to be built from concrete and was dome shaped. Something was sticking out of the roof and as I approached, I realised that it was the barrel of a telescope.
I opened the metal door and peered into the dark interior. Most of the space was taken up by the telescope’s mounting. I could just make out a dark figure perched on a chair behind it.
“Hello,” I said, “What are you doing?”
“Waiting for the Sun to set and the stars to appear,” he muttered. As the Sun was not yet at its zenith it seemed that he had some hours to wait. “What do you want?” he added.
Feeling a little flippant following my two conversations, I said, “I’m looking for the secret of happiness.”
“Hmph. What is happiness?” he groaned.
“Contentment, pleasure, satisfaction, a feeling of ease, completion,” I could have gone on, but he was looking at me glumly.
“I get none of those,” he said.
“But doesn’t looking at the stars give you pleasure.”
He snorted. “Pleasure! All I get is pain. The pain of knowing I cannot find the answers. The more I stare into the blackness the less I understand where the universe came from. That’s the reward of cosmology.”
“I see. You’re a cosmologist. Can’t you find answers to your questions?”
“Answers I find by the bucket-load, but I also find more questions. On it goes.”
“Well, I suppose you’re safe here. You’re built on rock above the tides and away from the stream.”
He shook his head sadly. “But the oceans are rising and the cliffs eroding. The Sun will expand and roast the Earth. And still I will not have the answers to all the questions.”
I backed out of the door, scrambling over the rocks, dipping my foot in pools until I reached the path leading up onto the headland. I was glad to leave that picturesque bay. I felt I would find more happiness by myself rather than be controlled, analysed or mystified, by those three hermits with their ologies.