The wake-up call

My neighbour went off for the long weekend. She must have the same small Bose CD-player as I do. It has an alarm function, and I hear precisely the same repeating note that comes from mine when I set it. The sound would get anyone out of bed. Even at low volume, it fills one’s head, allows no other thought. Then it increases to the full volume, until it is tupped. The machine is plugged into the wall; there is no battery to go dead, eventually, as in cars when their burglar alarms are interminably sounding. (It does shut down after a few hours, then resumes next morning.) At intervals I must remind myself that my neighbour is a very nice person, who innocently “forgot”; that homicide would not be justifiable, in this instance.

Begin with a button off your best shirt.
Or: your mate, car, children
born and unborn. Someone steals your luggage,
a kind of rape. The first time is the worst. …

These lines open a poem by an old friend (Fraser Sutherland), entitled, “Forms of Loss.” It seems I published them in my Idler magazine, thirty years ago. Somehow they capture the essence of modern life.

One might bore gentle reader with other recurring instances, on this morning of our North American “Labour Day” (like “May Day” in Europe, less the overt Marxism). Traffic is light, today; but the din of half-a-dozen “home improvement projects” instead fills the air, and a ghetto-blaster has now cut in. Soon the annual airshow will be resuming (supersonic jets passing low overhead).

For there are three things with which our contemporaries cannot cope, even for one minute: stillness, silence, and simplicity.

An answer, I suppose, is to move into a log cabin, so far away, that only the tax collector will find you. But that is to forget the bears, the mosquitoes and black flies, and the Canadian winter. Alternatively, there may be an unoccupied atoll in French Polynesia.

“In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken: for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.”

That, I suppose, would be God’s merry greeting to us on Labour Day — the ancient, repeating message, that there is no way back to the garden, of Eden, or of childhood; that the arrow leads only forward, through death. The forms of loss are progressive, cumulative, and finally, comprehensive.

“Loss is given us, and we take it.” (Sutherland, again.)

Notwithstanding, one is reminded — especially on Labour Day, for some reason — that most of our work is counter-productive. Most of what I hear clamouring around me goes only towards making the world noisier, more perplexing, and more vile. It is thanks, I suppose, to our need for labour-saving devices, that we are caught in an unprecedented course de rat.