A very happy Midsummer to you all. It is of course raining, but that’s traditional. I think that this time of year ought to be a time of year for joy. Actually, I think that all times of year ought to be times of year for joy. One of my philosophy teachers, Michael Morris, once asked somebody who had given a paper on Heidegger, why did Heidegger think that the authentic emotions were so gloomy; anxiety before death in Heidegger’s early career, and then boredom in his post-Nazi party period? Michael wanted to know what was wrong with thinking that the authentic emotional response to existence was joy. I am with Michael over Martin.
Reasons to be Cheerful
Apart from the fact that the world is full of people, some of whom are my friends and many of whom might yet be my friends, we’ve had plenty of reasons for joy this month. I didn’t manage to make it, but Deborah Lennard’s quiz at the Ruby pub was, I’m told, an absolute delight. Actual humans, together, doing trivia. Oh brave new world, that has such people in it.
We don’t have an event lined up for July, but Covid permitting, our friends at the Sussex Refugee and Migrant Self Support Group will be reopening the Jollof Café in its new venue, The West Hill Hall. It will be on a Wednesday. If it can happen, which will be a big if, it will be so full of joy and love. If there is one lesson that Covid has taught me, it is that the thing that matters in this world is community. We have to find ways of being with each other and space to connect. That is what the café is about, so see you there.
One of the reasons that I am feeling so happy, apart from the fact that there are roses and sparrows, and that I am now part of a community compost scheme, is that I have been very slack about doing our Twitter feed. This is bad of me and if anybody would like to get involved to help us communicate our message, that would be wonderful. It is definitely good for my soul, though. The Internet is such a cesspit of hatred and anger. I guess that is the business model. It’s a shame. The Internet could also be a vast pool of wit. I seem to remember that when the Guardian first opened comments under its articles, it was mostly people making outrageous puns. Perhaps I am nostalgic. What is certainly true, is that face-to-face, or even in crowds, people are very good at making space for each other. It’s not always an equitable distribution of space. The awkward squad take up too much room. The Internet has taught us to recognise manspreading. Certainly entitled so-and-so’s, like me, demand more than our fair share of everything. Nevertheless, although it may not be the most equitable distribution of space, it’s one that more or less works.
When the Pressure’s Off
Having said that, even the most entitled of us, probably don’t want all that much. If you leave humans alone, which is to say take the pressure off by creating a situation where it’s not so complicated to find food and shelter, we’re quite good at doing peaceful, beautiful and pointless things. Being a very bourgeois sort of person, so exactly the sort of person who takes up much more than my fair share of space, over the last year I had one of my periodic and not very successful attempts to understand how to do cryptic crosswords. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, I discovered that the late great Araucaria set an alphabetic puzzle entirely in rhyming couplets. This is extraordinary. I think that it says something about what we do when the pressure is off. Araucaria did not develop this art because it made him or anybody else rich, he did it because he found joy in arbitrary connections between words. There was and is a community of people who share that joy.
Cryptic crosswords are, admittedly, a niche pursuit, but go anywhere and you find people when the pressure is off doing equally beautiful things. Last weekend in St Ann’s Well Gardens there was a group of people gathered to read each other poetry and another group playing Irish folk music together. Round the corner from where I live, there is a house with a tiny front garden that has been turned into a vegetable patch laid out as an ornamental garden. People cook, bake, kick, hammer, stitch or, as seems to be the fashion in Hove these days, make gardens for fairies. Given all of that, it must be possible to find a way of organising things so that we don’t destroy the planet, drive conflict and leave people to drown as they try to cross borders. We can definitely do better.
Here’s my plea, can we stop making fighter jets, guided missiles, border fences, facial recognition technology and goodness knows what other murderous, cruel stuff we use to keep the pressure on huge swathe of the world’s population and leave people alone to pursue their own joy? Can we, perhaps, find it in our heart to welcome the stranger? Maybe we could club together some of our spare change to provide housing and financial support to our neighbours who come from other parts of the world. We can take the pressure off and see what joy that brings. I know that you do that already, but tell your friends and share the joy.