Every Sunday morning I haul myself out of bed, dress and set off on my four-hour, 236-mile trek up to London to earn my weekly crust. (Earn might be overegging the pudding a tad.) Then, every Wednesday night, at around 6pm it’s back into the car to drive back home again. But I don’t usually roll up at Powell Towers on the outskirts of St Breward until around 12.30 on the Thursday morning, because I now stop off for an hour or two at a pub called the Brewers Arms in South Petherton, about 104 miles away. I watch a bit of Champions League football on the pub’s 96in TV, have a pint or two of cider – well, two or two and half – and a couple of cigars before I am back on my way.
But all that has nothing to do with what I am about to write except to explain why, at about 11pm, I am on the A30 dual carriageway between Honiton and Exeter tootling along at around 60mph (tootling because although I used to hare along at 70/75mpg like all the other freaks, I realised, rather late in life 1) that you burn a damn sight more petrol driving fast; and 2) even driving more slowly, I am still no later home than when I drive like a lunatic (and bearing in mind modern sensibilities and how some words or phrases can be – albeit inadvertently – offensive, my apoligies to all mentally defective folk who feel my use of the word ‘lunatic’ is insensitive).
About eight miles west of Honiton and about six miles short of the M5, and not as far as Exeter airport, the A30 goes into a slight dip and then out of it again, and it is at that point that your get a distant view of Exeter, a huge expanse of golden/orange lights and all. I must have seen that sight close more than almost 1,000 times these past few years – around 48 times a year for the past I don’t know how many years – and each time – each time – I am struck by the same thought: how utterly bizarre or magical or frightening or exhilarating or downright odd it would have looked to some poor sap or other had he or she (though it is my firm belief that ‘saps’ are almost always male) transported to the 21st century from 200 or 300 or 400 years ago. ‘What the fuck’ – they would most certainly have used the word – ‘is this! Those lights! Surely the Devil’s work!’
If I were then to tell them that just three hours previously I had left London and they would most likely have fainted in disbelief. These, remember, were the days when the trip from London to Exeter would, at best, have taken several days. And only if you could have afforded to pay for coach travel.
My father-in-law, Roy Finnemore, is now over 90. His father had been a tenant farmer on Bodmin moor until he was about eight and was then able to buy Higher Lank farm (just over the lane from where I live) for a good price. That was in the early 1930s. He once told me that he and his father Wesley would usually fill a horse and cart with vegetables and a fruit and take them to market once a week. The journey would from the outskirts of St Breward to Bodmin would have taken at least an hour if not more and the road being hilly could not have been easy. These days I think nothing of zapping ‘into town’ to Asda or Morrsions to buy batteries or something if I am short.
I realise these observations are all rather commonplace and they, too, are not really the point of this entry.
The point is this: however ‘modern’ we feel we are, however much we are now able to communicate with everyone else on the other side of the world (that’s you, who might tomorrow be reading this in the US or Poland or China or Turkey or in any of the many countries Google’s statistics tell me readers of this blog are based), however many oh-so-trivial tweets I can send, we are, for future generations, still living in the dark ages. London or New York or Paris might well be now ‘smokeless zones’ where no one lights a coal or wood fire any more. Yet at home and at my stepmother’s cottage I light a fire most every day in the cold months to save on electricity and oil. But I can hear them say – make that sniff with derision – ‘good lord, they used to burn wood and coal in the middle of the room! Just think of it! Savages!
I once had an utterly pointless argument with someone who thought I was nuts to claim that every age sees itself as modern. And I meant every age: do we really think that folk living in the ninth century were conscious that they were still living in the ‘Dark Ages’? But he wouldn’t have it and couldn’t see my point. ‘Of course they’re not bloody modern’ he insisted.
. . .
Being brought up a Roman Catholic (but, no Maria Marron, I am no longer a Catholic however much they insist ‘once a Catholic, always a Catholic), I still, despite my new agnostic sophistication, believe that once we all die and – eventually – go to Heaven, we will all benefit from two things: we will all be re-united with everyone we were ever fond of, and everything will finally be explained. And I mean everything. And that is one reason why I am not only not afraid of dying, I am rather curious as to what I shall find out.
But before you think me a tad morbid, I should add that I trust the moment of my death will not come for another 20 or 25 years (probably a lot sooner than for some of you) and I bloody well hope it doesn’t come after a sustained period of chronic, painful illness. But I am curious as to what comes next. Is there an afterlife or is it all a load of hooey?
I must, being a sophisticated agnostic, confess that I rather fear it is all a load of hooey, that when we shuffle off this mortal coil, that is it, that as Tom and Jerry cartoons remind us: That’s All Folks! But I wouldn’t be at all disapointed if there were more. Just for the craic, of course.
. . .
PS Do gays go to Heaven? Do you know, I rather think they do, too. Sorry Bible Belt.