No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."
Excuses, Excuses, Excuses
The guitarist turned out to be quite good, so we decided not to eat him. He sauntered up the track-way leading to our compound one day, about ten months ago as I write, whistling down the warm summer breeze; cool as a cucumber and twice as tasty. He was lucky, he arrived in summer, when we had enough food and were fighting the storage problem rather than the hunger problem. But then I guess maybe he knew that. Maybe!
I always felt it was important to have a dynamic opening, and so I open with the guitarist. Because he is important. He was one of the catalysts of thisÖÖÖ opus?
Let me say straight away that I am somewhat at a loss as to how to describe what it is I am doing. Or why I am doing it. Before ĎThe Endí I used to think of myself as a writer, a potential novelist even, when feeling particularly optimistic. But what I am doing here is, I suppose, more of a memoir than anything else. It could perhaps be described as a work of social history Ė but that would be somewhat grandiose, not to say downright misleading.
I must begin however with some apologies. I am afraid that, like Anne Frank, of whoís diary I have a copy around here somewhere, I am not writing this account under the best of circumstances. I too am going to have to write in secret or I will be punished, terminally I fear, for the misuse of unreported resources. This means that I will have to be extremely careful about when I write, and it will be very variable how much I can write at any one time. I will be able to work only when there is sufficient natural light for example, which means early in the morning when hopefully most people are in the fields or in the kitchen; or late in the evening, if everyone goes to bed early because we have plenty of food again and everyone is too preoccupied to work until the sun goes down. This isnít happening so much recently because, though we must now travel further to track down game, or any food from outside our own resources, and we are still working hard to make sure our fields and animals and birds provide us with what we need; by and large we are finding enough, and more than enough, to keep ourselves going. We only eat Stew once a week, mostly ceremonially. Except when it needs to be eaten up of course.
I say Ďweí when talking about all this labour going on, but the one literary advantage I have is that, because of my ankles, or lack thereof, I canít go out and till the soil and pull the weeds and spread the manure, and all the things that everyone else toils over. So at least I have the possibility of privacy and I donít fall down at the end of the day through exhaustion and despair; though I do fall down a lot in general, as moving around with largely disconnected feet is, to say the least, awkward. My lack of mobility and general unproductiveness has always left me terrified that, whenever the snows are hard and food is scarce, I might end up as the main guest at dinner. However, obviously, this has not yet happened. Indeed I seem to have developed a protective aura, a mystique if you like; or at least I am treated with a level of social indifference which, so far, has left me un-nibbled. I am after all The Librarian of Warfield, and even the Farmer talks to me as an almost equal and sometimes listens to my advice and ideas. Gates alone knows why.
One of my little private nightmares is that, one hungry Christmas, someone in the kitchen will decide that as my feet arenít any good then my legs are ultimately quite useless too and would provide a tasty morsel for the High table. Or the Low. They would of course be quite right, but I have grown rather attached to my legs over the years, and I am afraid that I lack the degree of selflessness necessary to donate them to famine relief. Also, I suspect that the Vetís skills in amputation are not such as to deliver a particularly encouraging chance of surviving the experience. I suspect both the High and Low tables would, in the end, be satisfied. Still, I always like to look on the bright side. At least if they hacked me apart below the waist to provide for a Christmas buffet, Iíd have the comfort of being absolutely legless for the New Year. But enough of this light-headed, light-hearted, lightweight frivolity, I was in the middle of making my apologies.
As I was saying, I am afraid that I will be writing in fits and starts, in sections of variable length and quality, with the constant threat of interruption. Now although interruption might be an irritation for any writer - certainly I always found it so - in this case, if I am discovered, it will almost inevitably mean a permanent end to the narrative, as the usage of undeclared resources is now the number one crime in our little society, and would certainly be met with capital punishment. And a little light garnish. I am afraid that my privileged position and the fact that I am probably the only adult, with perhaps one or two exceptions, who can even remember how to write, would be no excuse or protection. My ass would be on the line and the rest of me in the stew-pot.
Although I am in the fortunate position of being able to lock the Church door to guarantee my privacy, that of course is what I cannot do, at least not very often. Otherwise serious suspicions might be aroused. So, the staccato nature of my writing timetable and the fact that I havenít the resources to make notes or do any degree of editing will mean, Iím afraid, that this account will be at the very least episodic. In all likelihood it will be stilted, repetitive and incoherent. But then, my writing was like that at the best of times. It is also likely to be of very uneven tone.
I try to keep my chin up, my upper lip stiff, my ear to the ground, and my shoulder to the wheel. I also have to keep my nose to the grindstone when my back is against the wall. However, aside from a few new and interesting things I can do with my feet, I am neither a contortionist nor an escapologist. I cannot, for example, escape from this hell on Earth. This bitterest, shittiest Hell-on-Earth in which we few are doomed to live. So I will try to write only when I am in a pretty good mood and only when times are reasonably OK. I realise of course that this will give an unreal and unrealistic account of what life has been like in these heres-and-nows, but if I write when I am in a black mood then I will write the whole, horrendous truth, and you will not want to read it and I will be physically sick. If you want to know how bad things really are then feel free to read between the lines and use your imagination. I donít have to.
Come to think of it, if anyone does ever read this account then you will have lived through your own version of The End and the Dante-esque nightmares that have followed. I salute your survival, but this is my story, if you donít like it, go write your own.
OK, I am still in the process of making my introductory apologies, and I had better get on with them sharpish or Iíll run out of paper, patience and time and abort this whole thing. I have two further things to apologise for.
The first of these is that I have done absolutely no research or planning or Ďstory-line developmentí or used any of the other tools and techniques which writers are supposed to use. All I have done is lived through the last twenty years: which is more than can be said for, at a guess, 99% of the civilised world. Also, I have no diaries to refer to, no historical records, no news-reports, no in-depth analysis, no Internet. I canít switch on CNN or even buy a copy of the Times. I have no encyclopedia, no thesaurus, one very small dictionary, a highly questionable and fallible memory, and little or no talent.
What you are going to get therefore is purely my viewpoint, my experiences, my understanding, my grief, my despair and my sense of humour. This is likely to lead to this book being different from, perhaps opposed to, your own experiences and understanding of The End and its aftermath. For example, it may be that for you Bill, The Dark Destroyer, is a myth; or a saint; or a footnote. Perhaps for you The End never came. But I donít really think that can be true because you never came to help us, or rescue us, or put us out of our misery.
The last apology I wish to make is for the lack of a word processor. Of all the things I miss; like electricity, hot water, penicillin, toothpaste, shoes; the thing I miss most right now is a word-processor. Or, in reality I suppose, everything that that would entail. Anyway I havenít got one, which is our hard luck, yours and mine. What it means is that, as I have already hinted, this account is going to be the roughest piece of unedited scripting you, dear reader, have ever read.
Also I am afraid you will have to contend with my handwriting and spelling, and Iím afraid that my fist is, at its very best, abysmal. I will be using an ill-assorted assortment of writing implements, in indifferent light, on this fresh but old, slightly smelly and already yellowing lined paper. Today, I am writing with a ballpoint pen which, amazingly, still works after more than twenty-years. A new experience for me. I could never actually keep a pen for more than a week or two, to find out how long one might last.
(AHH! Those seasons of blithe and casual wastefulness. Bring them back. Bring them back.)
I am currently giving my full concentration to legibility, sitting in some nice summer sunshine. My children are out on a Rat hunt, the women are cooking squirrels in the kitchen and all the men are out trying to catch a wild dog or wolf or some-such over at Legoland, so I am not in immediate danger of being interrupted. Iím afraid, therefore, that this opening section is likely to be as good as it gets. Indeed, looking over the last few pages I see that I have managed to maintain a fair degree of legibility, and I canít spot any major spelling errors. But then it is my handwriting and my spelling, and I have no way of correcting either anyway. Iím afraid that as this account continues and the weather, light, implements and my concentration worsens, I cannot guarantee continued legibility or even intelligibility.
Maybe someday, if the world gets started again, this manuscript will be tidied up and published. This will save you, my potential reader, much effort and eyestrain, but will of course put you at the mercy of that ubiquitous, iniquitous and nefarious animal, the editor. To him I say - Editor do your best, for I have done my worst. And, while Winston spins merrily on, I will end these idle fantasies, get down to my druthers and tell you the how and the why of these post-mortem ramblings.
Copyright © Jock Howson 1999
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