Thoughts of death at Christmas. My full stomach may have taken too much blood from my brain. Expect flaws of grammar, spelling and logic.
Last night, I was traveling along a stretch of road where I was once in a near fatal car accident. I was waiting for my third birthday amongst other things when it happened. I was unharmed, my sister experienced a superficial but bloody wound, my mother was nearly killed. I have been along that road many hundreds of times since then. Sometimes I think nothing of it, but this night the darkness seemed exactly as I recall that car crash night. My recall will have changed over the years, maybe dramatically, but it really was this road, and it certainly was night.
Midwinter, not raining, in my memory of the collision now.
Not my mother’s fault I should add, there’s no memory delusion in writing that, the law court decided.
I wonder what happened to that man who rashly decided to overtake in the wrong place that night?
How often did he think about what he had done? Was he a brute, idiot or someone made foolish and foolhardy by haste?
I don’t think I am death-obsessed, I have never had the tattoos required for that hobby, and my death discs were albums by the Smiths, which were as much about the self-importance and pity of being a teenager as they were about death. We might have watched the 336 to Watford speed by and played with other people’s poetry of hurling ourselves in front of it, but would we ever have really leapt from the kerb hand in hand?
Anyway, the 336 was a single decker.
Both middle age and parenthood pep up the sense of mortalities.
A few mornings ago, I was surprised to wake up and realise that for a whole 24 hours, I hadn’t thought about death. This is not a paranoid android, “we’re all doomed”, “what’s the bloody point?” frame of mind. I do not rue the moment of birth or spend my hours hangdog in graveyards. It is just a regular jab, a slap around the face, a glance towards the moon and beyond. It’s a sign that I have not descended into enough busyness, I have found spare thoughts for mortality when I should be thinking about something creative. Usually it is a moment walking up the stairs late at night or staring ahead of me in the bath. I think about how there will be a time when I sense nothing again – no smells, shapes, colours or tastes, it is hard to imagine the world without you. The world you do imagine without you still has you in it, perhaps as a ghost observing your packed funeral where everyone remembers your excellence or, in bleaker moments, that Gatsby funeral where the catering would require little more than a packet of Hula Hoops. Does Stewart Lee come along anyway because he hears there may be crisps? Is he your Owl Eyes?
The “what if” part of my mind has a crash zoom realisation of the possibility of death in most scenarios. It doesn’t dominate events, a flash as fast as the devil face in The Exorcist.
I look at the walls of a relative’s house and think of the number of Christmas cards that once jostled the walls and mantelpiece of their sitting room, lit’s ess than a third of that number now. Each year, another reminder that some people did not last as long as the final posting day before Christmas. Even the most gregarious octogenarian will be hard pressed to forge enough new friendships a year to ensure their Christmas card count remains steady.
Then, I thought of zombies. As the wind tore open our back gate, the flicker of a zombie invasion crossed my thoughts. How easy for those brain hungry hordes to smash down the door, what weapons would I use to defend the family? Why did I get rid of my grandfather’s bayonet, so useful in the final fight for humanity on earth.
The fictional scenario then transformed into a drama documentary. The Romero horror fiction leads to thoughts of Rwanda realities. The narrative of genocides easily becomes cinema, it becomes “the usual story”, where the pain is somehow different for those involved, this suffering humanity is not the same as we are. So I imagine what happened in Rwanda transferred to the home counties, the bodies floating in the grand union canal where once pleasure barges sauntered and chugged.
Shortly after my son was born, I found myself thinking about the holocaust of World War 2. I thought of those piles of shoes in the Holocaust exhibition as I put on my own son’s canvas boots. So many of those shoes a similar size, but taken from feet that would grow no more. I thought about how they faced an utterly pointless and cruel death. How lucky I am to live in the place and time I do. It can be hard to imagine others’ humanity, as if no one else could suffer like we do, especially in monochrome times and in different lands.
But they did. Love sharpens death.
My son is scooting down the road, still metres from the road, the need to shout, “be careful, brake now. BRAKE NOW!”
It’s all fine, but in those many worlds, I saw another outcome.
We all reach an end one day, hopefully in our sleep, where we are not even aware of the end of our awareness.
Those moments of paranoia help sharpen up the rest of it all. I am about to see the sea between Exeter and Newton Abbot again. Never dull, maybe even more in focus on each occasion, from the crazy golf to the excited shrimp netting rock pool crowds. I can still see the sun, though I am not looking directly into it. I am some kinds of idiot, but I am not every kind of idiot.
In this universe, how odd is it to be a creature aware of its mortality?
I think I’d rather be that than a bat. I tried imagining that, but beyond the practicality of echo location, I got stuck.
I am back on tour in the new year with new shows, some new solo shows, some new shows with Grace Petrie and Josie Long, as well as the return of Pointless Anger, Righteous Ire and Dirty Book Club. Sheffield, Bristol, Norwich, Lancaster and so many many more – all that hullabaloo is HERE
Tip Top Chris Hadfield interview is amongst additions to http://www.cosmicgenome.com and Android friendly version available from Boxing Day. New Brian Cox review of the year and plenty more.