Too much civilisation


I live in a suburb where the people are generally well off and decent types. They’re well educated and engaged. For some reason, there’s a fair number of expats here too, and they’re much the same. Walking down the street, you’ll often get a smile and, occasionally, will be wished you a good morning, or somesuch. I’ve always thought that a pre-condition of living here was ownership of a bike and a dog. I have both, though only one of them gets any work.

I’ve been for a walk this morning with Rigby, and along the way, we found other couples – man and dog – out on this sunny Sunday morning. Yesterday, I caught up with Cheeseboy for a coffee. We sat there as people went by with their dogs tugging them along, occasionally pausing to get acquainted with Bailey, the Cheese’s labradoodle.

As I walked to the supermarket yesterday after coffee, I encountered more than a dozen dogs out for a walk or sitting at the feet of their owners taking in the sun while mum and dad had breakfast. I looked at every dog. Some, as I went by, I made that little sound in my throat that dogs know. A couple of times, I stopped to pat a dog tied up outside a shop waiting for its owner, some patiently, some keening with worry. Each time I felt myself powerfully moved by these dear creatures, which I love with all my heart. And a feel a kinship with their owners, as if we are a part of a brotherhood.

I’ve always loved dogs, but it’s true also that as I get older, I’m becoming more soft-hearted when it comes to animals in general. It troubles me how often they are exploited and abused. There must be a better term for it, but peering into an animal’s eyes, I can sense their innate ‘humanity.’ I can recognise each of them has a life. They have feelings, have fears and affection. That’s the sort of view likely to have you accused of anthropomorphism, which means to see – or treat – animals as human beings.

Let me make it clear. I don’t equate the two – broadly speaking, my feelings towards animals are untainted, whereas I have serious doubts about humankind. In some ways, my affection for animals is little different for what I feel for children. They have an innocence that is worth cherishing, but both are subject to exploitation by the less innocent, and generally are unable to defend themselves against it. To stand by and watch that exploitation seems against nature. It certainly doesn’t fit right with me, and less so every day.

I don’t know if I see things differently now that I’m older, or if it’s just become more exposed. What is clear to me now – a wiser man perhaps than I was before – is that exploitation of this type is an embodiment of hubris.

For centuries, human culture has viewed nature in all its variety as something to serve our appetites and ambition. It is a resource to be consumed, for profit like as not. Animals are expendable as beasts of burden and sustenance, and mother earth despoiled. That’s the chicken that’s finally come home to roost, and I need not expound on that further. It seems a very human thing.

I’m no purist – I like a good steak (though I eat less and less) – but I can’t accept that it’s destiny that makes us the pre-eminent species on earth. We may be the most intelligent of species and possess uniquely – so they say – ‘consciousness’ (I’m a skeptic), but it’s absurd to suggest it means anything more than a fluke of biology. The earth hasn’t been placed here for our benefit, and no amount of misguided destiny justifies abuse and cruelty.

I’m at the stage of life when I want no part of that, and it makes sense to me that we return to nature. It’s about respect. It’s in short supply all round, these days. Respect for each other, and respect for the world around us, too, and every critter a part of it. If there’s anything we need now, it’s humility – but even the well-intentioned seem to lack that.

This is the symptom of my times: I’ve lost faith in humanity. As individuals, as people who share smiles and good wishes and walk our dogs, there is little to complain of. But as a collective, we have become dire.

If there were a vote tomorrow about who should go on, people or dogs, then I’d vote dogs because they are by far the more pure being. That’s where I’m at.

Things pass, but they’re never gone


A couple of months ago I ordered in a book from a rare and secondhand bookstore in London. The book was The Torrents of War, by Igor Sentjurg – one of the better novels to come out of world war two, but long out of print and hard to find.

I first discovered this book many years ago – shall we say 40 years? My grandfather was a gentle, learned man whose passion was books. At my grandparents home in Strathmore, a whole wall in the living room was given over to bookshelves crammed with hundreds of books. We were regular visitors, and on school holidays I’d spend a week there with my grandparents. I can remember bits and pieces of my visits there – the roast meals, my grandmother’s Anzac cookies, a day out shopping with my grandpa, my grandma driving an old silver Holden. I remember the elegance with which my grandfather always dressed, and the severity of my grandma (doted on me nonetheless).

There’s a vivid memory of one day being dropped off in Joliment near the Hilton hotel with my grandpa and walking to the MCG the day of the Boxing Day test when Kim Hughes struck a magnificent hundred, and Lillee bowled Viv Richards on the last ball of the day. I remember the garden – roses in the front, and fruit trees in the back my grandfather had grafted one on another – and taking the border collie, Lassie, for walks in the evening. I remember how he would measure me against a piece of timber, scratching in it my latest height. How tall am I? I would ask, and I remember the last time he measured me before he died telling me I was six foot and three-quarters of an inch – how I cherished those three-quarters of an inch!

All this was true.

An abiding memory is my grandfather’s books. I was a book-loving kid and I would browse his shelves every time I visited, plucking books from the shelves to check out, returning some, and taking others to read myself. Often I would find myself in the rear bedroom that had been my uncles growing up, but which I would sleep in when I stayed. The bed had drawers beneath it, and a rug across it broadly striped in yellow, white and red. I would lay on the bed with the book on the floor and my grandma going by would say, “can you read that? Aren’t your eyes good!”

One of those books was The Torrents of War, but there were many others too. Forty-odd years later I own some of those books, history mainly, but also grandfather’s books on Muhammad Ali (I was with him when he bought the Wilfrid Sheed book) – I wish I had spoken to him about Ali – as well as the Sentjurg paperback. Its pages are brittle and yellow now, and the spine cracked from decades of reading, a keepsake rather than something I could read – and so ordering in a replacement (the same edition, the same cover) was as much an act of remembrance as it was of literature.

All this is recalled to me now because I began a book this morning about the great Australian correspondent, Alan Moorehead. Moorehead was one of the very best war correspondents covering the second war. It was a great observer, which he would render in evocative prose. He came to write several books thought to be classics now, but an author seemingly long forgotten – a man from another age.

My grandfather had Moorehead’s Nile books. I can’t remember if I read them, but I can picture them on the shelves still. No doubt I pulled them out and browsed through them (and I was curious enough to read Moorehead’s classics on the North African war as an adult). Memory was at play, but so too was imagination. These old books became a part of life in my mind, long passed.

Once upon a time, Moorehead would have been almost a household name. I imagined my grandfather, younger, hale and hearty, a doting father, a dedicated employee of the PMG, a quiet man of refined tastes and routines, spotting the Moorehead’s as they were being released and thinking to himself, that sounds interesting – must buy that. And he would, as he did for decades, his one real indulgence.

That was real world for him. Real life. And it was for Moorehead then in his own way, scratching out his books in a life that was current and vibrant – no matter how dusty and distant it appears now.

It’s not that you forget that there’s a time and a history before ours, but it doesn’t have the same pulse and vibrancy of today because, well, it was long yesterday. It doesn’t feel quite real because you weren’t there to see it. What was current and present and often in the balance has passed now into history. The outcome has been determined, the characters no more than names long gone, and all of it given a solemnity by being recorded history books and literature. It’s all true, but it has a flavour of hearsay because it’s not now.

It’s good to remember – and not just remember, but feel it – how there was a time before and it was real and people lived their lives as we do and probably thought much as we do and even if times have changed, and tastes and desires, then there are universal truths that persist, and probably do going back millennia. My grandfather would get out of bed and catch the train to work (probably an old red rattler), as I do, he followed the footy and cricket, and even if the players are different, it’s much the same. He read his books and made his plans and nurtured his children, and it was all real for him, though he’s been dead nearly forty years.

One of the things I inherited from him was a leather-bound scrapbook in which he had cut and glued newspaper articles of the day – the fifties mainly, the sixties – little home improvement projects, and carpentry tips, gardening, even architectural design. It’s always fascinated me because it was of another life – and now I could imagine him reading an article in the Argus and thinking, I’ll do that, before cutting it out and putting it in his scrapbook.

One day there may be someone reading this from a time when my today seems long distant and me, long gone. Let me tell you – I lived. Sometimes the days went fast, but mostly just one at a time. I can hear a bird sing as I write this, and the sun is shining. This morning as I walked by the foreshore, the sea seemed particularly briny. There are things in me – but you know that if you’ve read the stuff that comes before – as there was my grandfather, though I don’t know what they were. We all look, some of us see, we feel even if sometimes we’d prefer not to, we hope and cheer, grizzle and grumble. The trivial looms large before falling away, and the great bewilders us.

These are my times. And now I’m going to make myself a sandwich for lunch.

Next stage


I’m working from home today because most of the office has taken the day off the day before the Melbourne Cup, and there’s no point me being there. I’ve been busy, but working from home is always pleasant.

About the time I’d usually be getting ready for work I lay in bed with a fresh-made coffee and read. Something I read caught my eye. It was something about how, when people hit a certain age, they suddenly stop to reflect. They’ve reached the stage where the life they’ve known is transitioning into something different. The kids are grown up maybe, or the house paid off, or maybe they’ve reached the limit of their ambitions. They begin to consider where to next? What do they want now?

This hasn’t happened to me, but probably because my life has been disrupted. I’ve been so busy scrambling to catch up and fighting for what I have that there’s not really been the time to think of that. I can’t afford the luxury, regardless. Had none of the adventures of recent years occurred then chances are I’d be sitting back in the next few years mapping out the next phase of my life. I’d have money in the bank and property in my name. I’d be comfortable enough to feel a little indulgent, knowing that I was pretty well set-up. The reality is totally different now because of those adventures, but so be it. Inshallah.

I read and it didn’t worry me because I’m well reconciled with what happened. I’m busy trying to make good at least fraction of what I lost, and that’s been my focus. Reclamation. That’s going to take a while and so I hardly think of other options but very vaguely – dreams I might write a best selling novel mayhap, or notions that I might branch out and take advantage of the gig economy. Just notions though, nothing concrete, and nothing in the immediate future.

But then I read this and it struck me that I’m at that age, too, even if my circumstances are unusual. And sure, I have to be pragmatic and hard-nosed, but does that stop me from being bold in my personal choices? It’s a narrow road I’ve set myself. Pretty Calvinist, and though I can be dogged, I’m not of a puritanical mindset.

Translated, it means I’ve got to keep my nose to the grindstone but maybe it’s time I become more expansive in my personal life.

Touch wood, I think I’ve got work sorted now – I’m on an upward path, I’m re-building my network, I’m well regarded and have people looking out for me. I reckon it’ll look after itself and I expect my salary to steadily increase. Without an act of god I’ll never get back to where I was, but I can repair a lot of the damage in the next ten years.

That leaves the life of my mind and heart. I finished my second novel yesterday. By this time next year, I expect both will be in the market and to have made a start on a third. My social life is improving, though not a shadow on what it was. I don’t know if I want that now anyway, but I wouldn’t mind eating out more. I’ve got to travel again, but not yet. Gee, I miss it, though. Have to be financially circumspect still – no can do.

Two top things on my list then – a better place to live. This is well located but small. And I have to get amongst it again. There are women that like me. Some are married, so cross them out. Another is keen but I’m unsure of her. Maybe I should try her. But then there are the little flirtations I engage in before withdrawing. Maybe I should be going for those. You second guess yourself, though. You don’t have enough dollars. Or maybe you think you’re too old. Maybe that’s true, but if they’re willing, why shouldn’t I be?

In the end, it’s a state of mind. The old me didn’t think twice. He just went for it. It was a natural thing as it isn’t now. I’m too Calvinist 😉

It mattered less then because I had plenty of time and lots of everything else – family, security, fun. Now there’s less of everything, but it makes it more pressing, I think, and maybe more precious.

They’re timely considerations. Reckon it’s time to press down on the accelerator.

Romance and tragedy


When I was a kid, one of my favourite movies was Dr Zhivago. In retrospect, it seems a strange choice for a kid when more often boys that age go for action movies. It’s a sweeping, historical romance, gorgeous to look at and lusciously framed. It also deals with an epoch-making era – the Russian revolution – that is confronting and brutal.

It appealed to me for different reasons, I think. The leading characters, and the actors playing them, were very alluring. Both Zhivago and Lara are great characters, but the actors playing them, Omar Sharif and Julie Christie, had their own charisma. Sharif was on a golden run. Before this he had appeared in another David Lean classic, Lawrence of Arabia. He had a beautiful, sensitive face, with the deep brown and expressive eyes of a devoted pet. And around this time I was in love with Julie Christie. I can’t hear the phrase ‘cornflower blue’ without thinking of her eyes.

It’s hard to get into a movie if you don’t get the characters, and that’s particularly true when you’re an impressionable kid. You want to like and identify with the protagonists, even if only at an aspirational level. Lara was someone I could love, and Zhivago was a man worthy of her.

I studied the Russian Revolution at school in year 11. Mr Wolfers was my teacher. I don’t know if I’d watched the movie by the time I went to history class, but I remember being fascinated by the story of the Russian revolution. It was a tale full of drama and vivid characters, it had intrigue worthy of a spy movie and brutality enough to impress a kid learning about the world. It was a tragedy in many ways, combined with realpolitik, and against a backdrop of the First World War.

I was a smart kid, though it didn’t always show. I wouldn’t only accept what I was being told. I’d think about it and wonder – I had a colourful imagination as well as a sensitive nature. One day I had to write an essay about the causes of the Russian Revolution. There were many, and it’s a story rich in incident and drama, but I sheeted home the blame to the Tsar. It’s hard to dispute, but it wasn’t the simplistic answer my teacher was looking for. Without the missteps and misjudgements and general stupidity of the Tsar, the monarchy would have survived a while longer, if not forever. But then without the war, he would have survived too, even with scandals such as Rasputin. But not forever I think, for the times were changing and the seeds of discord had been sown and nurtured by an oblivious regime. Even so, had the Kerensky government been better founded it might never have turned out as it did, and the world today a far different place…

It’s a fascinating era of conjecture and what-ifs without clear precedence. My answer, in the end, said much about me – I disapproved of the Tsar, not just because of his ineptitude and ignorance (he wasn’t an evil person, just very stupid), but because of the system. I doubt I would ever have been a Bolshevik, but having studied the period, I couldn’t abide by a society so lacking fundamental democracy.

The Tsar was near to God, but at the other extreme were the serfs, ‘souls’ effectively owned in a patriarchal society that even when benevolent was fundamentally wrong. Ultimately the lives of the ordinary people were disposable and irrelevant and had been for generations.  Needless and foolish massacres had fomented resentment for decades, and the waste of life in the war against Germany was the culmination of bitter experience. I was 16 when I wrote that essay, and a good part of my outlook was forming.

Dr Zhivago was a thrilling explication of those times. You could watch it as an adventure. As a kid that was probably the temptation, but I saw more than that. It was a terrible adventure. Human life became cheap, and the structures that held society together were destroyed. It was a nihilistic, anarchic period of history in which human individuality was subsumed in the gears of history. This I learnt watching this: that individuality was a precious thing. This is a romantic movie in many ways, but it’s also the tale of human tragedy.

I watched the movie again on the weekend. It’d probably been twenty years since I watched it last. I was curious to see if I would respond in the same way. So often, these days, I find myself disappointed in revisiting old books or movies and discovering that whatever had made them special to me once was no longer special. The difference is me. I’ve moved on. Whether that’s for the better or not, I don’t know, but I feel the loss. Thankfully I found Dr Zhivago just as enjoyable as ever.

What I remembered watching this was what a great film-maker David Lean was. It’s so clean to look at that you could imagine it happening just like that. The vividness of his storytelling reminds you that’s more than just entertainment – this is how things were. If these characters are fictional, then it’s also true that the events depicted were true to type, and characters like these lived and died and were swept under the wheels of time. As an adult, certainly, it hits you. It draws you in, and you find yourself thankful that you didn’t have to live through such a time.

I remember in my early twenties I read the book by Boris Pasternak. It’s an excellent book. I would read the book and relate it back to the movie, which was quite faithful to it. In particular, the young man I was, I was drawn to the relative tranquillity of Yuryatin, where for a while Zhivago the poet lived in a kind of idyll separate from the conflict consuming Russia. It’s beautiful writing. As a young man, maybe half a dozen years after leaving Mr Wolfers class, and full of hope and ideas I was drawn to the poetry of it myself. Amid despair here was the sensitive life lived with hope. Simple, good things, and hope. That’s all you needed in a pristine world. You could believe in that as a romantic, as someone bent on pure ideals. It was but an interlude, though, and the brute world has the last say. There is no pristine world.

Romance and tragedy in a nutshell. That’s this story.

Mind and body


I’ve been quiet for the last few days because I’ve been crook. At one point, I was heard to say that it was the sickest I’d felt for years. Maybe, but statements like that are easy to make when you’re miserable with it. True or not, it wasn’t much fun.

I felt it coming on during the grand final on Saturday, around the time most GWS supporters would have been feeling sick. It was in my head and throat, my nose and chest were congested, and I just knew it was going to be a bad one.

I slept poorly because of it, which made it worse. I kept a low profile Sunday, and on Monday too – which was just about the worst of it – which I’d taken off as an annual leave day.

Sleep was a big problem. I was all blocked up and found it hard to breathe, and through the day would bark a hacking cough out every minute or two. And I was running hot. I knew I wasn’t going to work on Tuesday, but ended up going anyway.

Don’t know what it is, but I don’t like giving into these things, and staying home when I should feels, in a perverse way, like giving in. So I went in yesterday morning feeling pretty wretched, and looking (and sounding) it too, by all accounts. The excuse was an important meeting I had to attend. I left afterwards at the urging of my colleagues.

Today I feel better, though not completely. I dosed up before I went to bed last night and had the best sleep for a few nights, and that makes a big difference. I’m still sneezing. I still have a deep bass voice. I’m still coughing, though not as much, and not as painfully – I coughed myself raw previous days. There’s the odd coughing fit, and I’m not in a state where I can share an office with others, but I feel much better in myself than before, when all I wanted to do was curl up and forget about everything.

I actually went out for breakfast this morning. It’s a beautiful, sunny day and I sat outdoors eating a couple of poached eggs on toast. I watched things go by. Notwithstanding my health, I felt fine.

I’m in a funny place. For the moment I feel more together than in recent times, though I’m still aware of something untethered within me. It seems to me that before I was inside of life and I flowed with it without thought. It was easy, and I was easy, and sometimes I felt commanding as if nothing was beyond me. The world spread out before me.

Then things happened, and I was thrown out of that world and was very aware suddenly that I was now outside of life. It makes sense in a way, and it’s one of the things that people who have a comfortable life don’t understand about those whose life has become disarrayed. There’s a lot of obvious difficulties when you become homeless and/or unemployed, but it’s the sense of disconnection that goes unseen.

I think I believed that would pass once I got my life back on track. By most measures now I’m officially ‘back’. I don’t feel it though, not even when I get back to doing the things I would when I was inside of life. I was out last Thursday for pre-grand final drinks. It was a big night starting at Union Electric drinking cocktails and ended at Punch Lane drinking wine. I was in my element, and in good form, it was a fine night – but it feels like an outlier. Not part of my life, but a diversion from it.

I wonder if all it is is a state of mind. Maybe I just need to decide that I’m back inside life and the world is my oyster again? What makes that difficult are the little crimps that remind me it’s not as it was – the limitations of my authority at work that run counter to instinct, the financial inhibitions that exist still despite increased salary, and so on. I realise in saying that I was spoilt before, and had it better than most – I should just accept abbreviated circumstances. It seems churlish not to. But actually, my public utterances are that I don’t need to do what I did before. I don’t know if I have the appetite for it, let alone the attention span. I say that, but I sometimes think it’s my insides that are geared to something more. My reflexes. Like I said, my instincts. I get into a situation, and it’s natural for me to take the next step, to propose or do something, to assume leadership, to speak up.

It’s an interesting one, almost as if I’m out of sync with myself. And maybe that’s what I need to resolve, though I don’t know how. For me, it comes down to a question that has been present throughout my life: what is true? What is right?

Through the eyes of others


So, I was pondering the sense of futility that seems everpresent these days. What is the value of what I do? What is the point of this existence? But then, on Thursday night, we had a work function after work when we went to the same bar I went to a few weeks ago with JV. Drinks were laid on, and tapas and the atmosphere was convivial. I had 3-4 drinks and spoke to different people, but more most of the evening was in conversation with my new manager.

I’ve mentioned before what a lovely bloke he is. He’s a cracker. He’s a couple of years short of 60, originally a Malaysian Chinese who’s been living here for about thirty years, and about a foot shorter than me. We’ve always got on quite well, but now our relationship has changed. I find him a straightforward and decent person to work with. Judging by our conversation on Thursday he’s quietly fascinated by me, and quite chuffed to have me on board.

When he interviewed me first, he hadn’t seen my CV, but obviously, he’s caught up with it since. He began to ask me about aspects of it, commenting on what interesting experience I’d had, and how strange it was that I had experienced both senior positions, and junior – I’d confessed to him how I’d started out there working on the phones.

It was not the time or place to give him the full story, so I skimmed over it, but it was enough to intrigue him more. As an individual, I’m very different from him. He’s always been the modest, hard-working family man, whereas he sees me as quite the adventurer – and approves of it. At the same time, he’s obviously excited to have me join the team. He realises that for the price of a middle-ranking role he’s got an experienced, and competent senior candidate. I’ve opened his eyes to possibilities, and suddenly he sees opportunities ahead.

It was almost endearing to see how enthusiastic he had become. He was like a kid believing in Santa Claus again. He’s encouraged me to do my thing from the word go, and the results are fascinating to him – almost as if he’s been made to think another way, and it’s revitalised him. To be blunt, I think he sees me as a bit of a meal ticket, though not nearly mercenary as that. He’s happy to ride in my wake and, as I’m always am when given my head, I’m happy to forge ahead. It so happens, as he is very conscious off, that with the senior Digital Manager leaving things are in flux, and the chance to stake out new territory is there.

I went home that night on the train reflecting on that. It was flattering to be seen in such a light. I knew I was capable of what he hoped from me, but it seemed particularly ironic considering what I had felt just the night before. I struggle to find meaning for myself, but here I am with my manager finding meaning in me.

Then yesterday. When I interviewed for the role I ultimately had to knock back, there was a woman involved. I hardly knew her then, but am now working close to her, though we work in different areas. She’s a lovely lady, kind, and obviously very smart, and takes every opportunity to be friendly to me. Yesterday we happened to be in the kitchen together at the same time. I don’t know how it started – perhaps she asked me how the job was going. Anyway, she said she thought it was a really good fit for me and that I’d be good at it – she’s like that. But then she said, “you’ve got a very interesting CV”. She said it positively. I was surprised and murmured something about having sought variety. “Variety is good,” she said.

So, in the space of 24 hours, I’ve had two different people basically validate my professional self, and express even how interesting that self is. It made me think about what I want. Did I want for me what my manager hopes what I can enable? The answer always is yes – I always want more, because more is interesting, and because it is better than less, and because what I never want is the dull, old status quo. But do I really want those roles? My ego does maybe, and probably my bank manager. I don’t need it, though.

What I want, I realised, is the room to be myself. I’ve been denied that, here, and in years leading up to this, but in the years before that was the source of satisfaction. I could feel myself, could be myself, without constraint, so much so that I took it for granted. My step-sister always said she’d never met anyone as comfortable in their skin as I was – but I felt that too, without knowing it.

My life was comfortable then. I’d achieved a level that made things simpler, but while there was comfort in that, the joy of it was not in the achievement, but in the freedom to achieve. I was given space, and I took it. Maybe the secret then is the doing, not the being. And maybe, judging by what others see in me, there’s another journey in me.

The epoch of the mass-man


I’m reading a book at the moment called Diary of a Man in Despair. It’s by a German author who recorded his thoughts through the rise of the Nazis and the second world war. His name was Friedrich Reck, and ultimately they caught up with him, and he died at Dachau.

It’s a fascinating, entertaining read. Reck was a highly educated man with distinct opinions and a voice all his own. He’s haughty and derisive, he has a patrician air but is not above the occasional gossipy aside. His attitude drips with a delicious, acid disdain. He deplored the Nazis, as much for their uncouth manners as their politics. He was a proud German who saw decline all about him, and predicted disaster, and was right.

Throughout the book, he launches into scathing dissertations on the state of the world about him, like a grumpy old man, but he knew what he spoke of and describes it in coruscating detail. Reading, I could imagine him in his far ago hunched over his diary inscribing his bitter words. It was the end of everything, he knew, and he wanted to record it.

There are many memorable sections in the book, but there was one the other day that resonated with me. It could be said that I’m a bit of a grump too, and I’ve not been short of a bitter word or two in this blog. I can sympathise. But then I read this section, and I realised how little changes. What appeared true to him back then I could endorse equally today – and have, more or less, but in my own words.

He writes of ‘Mass-man’, who:

“…buys the products of technology in complete mindlessness, without involving himself, or even taking an interest in the intellectual work that made these things possible…

I do not believe this ‘New-Adam’ has the faintest idea of how completely dependent his existence is on the products of technology. I have an idea that at a beginning of the end of world he will want to know how the government proposes to hold next Sunday’s German-Sweden football match on schedule. His fate appears to me certain and unavoidable. The coming Second World War will be the beginning of the end: the end of an epoch in which rationalism was dominant, and the legacy of which – assuming the planet is still capable of regeneration – will be ‘X’, a new mode of life based on the nonrational.”

He wrote that in 1937. Eighty years on the technology has become omnipotent and dominates our life, though clearly, the strains of its insidious influence were plain even then. The ‘mass-man’ he writes of here is pretty much the same as what we see now, and perhaps it has ever been so. The only difference I can see is that he speaks of the end of rationalism, whereas as far as I can see, it’s been long dead in this modern era. But then he goes on to say:

“…the masses sensing they are doomed…will, no doubt, strike out against everything that is not masslike, but is, simply, ‘different’…”

Substitute mob for mass and this is the state of affairs in much of the western world. The mob – the degenerate mass-man – voted in Trump and in favour of Brexit. The low rent appeal of it swayed the election here, and it has adherents in every nation. It takes aim at everything different and not sanctioned by the mob – refugees and muslims, different coloured foreigners and clever elites, and whomsoever they are directed at to despise.

The problem is, we live in an age of intellectual torpor. Our critical faculties have withered. Too much easy living, too many low-bars, has made us soft. Great herds of consumers get carried away on social media over febrile linguistics, on inconsequentialities while the great things elude them. Outrage is the lingua franca of our times. The educated mind that once led curiously on is a rare thing these days, existing only in intellectual ghettoes, under siege from the commonplace politics of populist leaders who see danger in independent minds and urge their followers to the same. In the face of such hostile opposition, intellectual rigour has fallen away. The questions that should be asked are asked rarely, or not at all, lies are accepted as truth, and too much that once would have left us shocked has now been accepted as normal.

It all sounds very Orwellian – and me an awful grump. I find it hard settling in a society where the lowest common denominator rules, and sometimes I wonder how I found my way here, high and dry. Those of us who think similarly have been disenfranchised. We are part of the problem, not the solution – but the solution makes for greed and prejudice and a nation of drones.

Gloomy as I sound, I’m always hopeful that it will change. I’ve always believed that, but more and more I feel as Reck did, retiring to my ‘estate’ as he did, though mine is made up of books and old movies and music and good wine, and the occasional rant, like this. He knew his time was over. Though I know the pendulum will swing, I wonder if my time is done too. I suspect I may not be around when it corrects, when the educated mind is valued again, and independent thought encouraged. Of course, we might all be burnt to a crisp by then…