“Ladies and Gentlemen; would you welcome the new writer in residence.”- Momus
The affects of bad weather on the social behaviour of society’s upper echelons.
For three years I have been in a kind of Writer in Residence programme the technical details of which are not important here.
The first year I spent living and working in a rock pool in a seaside town on the south coast of England. I learned to live on what could be found on the beach and to co-exist with the strange and sometimes dangerous Pixie folk who occasionally came to meet in a copse on the cliffs over looking my station.
The second year found me in a large, doorless and windy barn on a large private estate in Northhamptonshire. I learned to hide foxes from the hunt and to kill myxomatoid rabbits with one quick stroke of a stick. I have become very fond of sticks during this period.
This last year I have been living in a hovel in Windsor Great Park. I have learned a lot about small rodents and may soon be able to mobilise a good sized army of rats, mice, voles and shrews, if I can teach them to get along. The friday night fights between the 2nd Rat and 1st Mouse battalions have become rather too disruptive of late.
The accommodation is cramped and damp. The wind comes in through any number of large and small holes in door and wall.
When things get too much, as they sometimes do and I find myself not having shaved or washed for perhaps a week or two; when I find myself wistfully day dreaming of being found someday naked and squatting in the chest cavity of a missing tourist I find a particular stray dog who exists rather more successfully than me in the park and we walk and talk for a hour or two. He sets my mind aright with his quiet wisdom and all is well.
I am greatly exposed to the elements here. The roof leaks, the walls only make a show of keeping the outside outside. My only means of transport walking and bicycle and everywhere worth going a long journey away. I notice the weather like a prehistoric hunter gatherer might.
Therefore I have been taken up completely by the recent storms. I crouch in my hovel avoiding drips and listening to branches falling and crashing onto the roof. The weather has colonised my mental landscape completely.
God saw that human sickness was great on earth and that human hearts contrived nothing but wicked schemes all day long.
The sound of the rain on the roof, the sound of a big, thundering bass guitar, the words of Genesis bubbling up from somewhere in the dustbin of my consciousness and my friend the dog nowhere to be found.
Of every clean animal you must take seven pairs, a male and a female; of the unclean animals, you must take one pair.
Why take even one pair of the unclean animals? Was it to have something familiar to look down on right after the flood? At least it gives hope to us all, the most unclean, my rats, mice, voles, shrews and me.
The park is in a very affluent area. The percentage of children hereabouts who wear Barbour jackets and Hunter Wellington boots must be amongst the highest in the country. We are bordered by Ascot and Windsor- more than once I have been blasted form the road by a dust storm blown up by the passing of the Queen’s speeding convoy of bullet proof Range Rovers and Bentleys.
This proximity to people with money, much of it old, has given me an opportunity to study their behaviour more closely than ever before. It is true, they are different. In terms of the way they interact with strangers in a park they seem to be ruled by a strange axiom, the less likely you are to have been the victim of violent crime the more likely you are to fear it.
It can’t be that I am surprising them. The roads here are long and straight, you get a Capability Brown view on everything, and I am quite luminous on occasion.
It seems to me that if you are approaching someone on a long, straight road, there is no one else in view and you watch each other grow from specs in the distance to full grown people like a scene from Lawrence of Arabia with more bikes and fewer camels, the decent, polite thing to do is to acknowledge the other’s existence. A small, a nod, a simple ‘hello’ will do.
Surely it is stranger to try to pretend the stranger isn’t there but that is what the majority of the people I meet in the park do. They frown, they look away, they look disgusted, they look like they have just recognised my face from a wanted poster. Even their Labradors and Spaniels (standard issue round here) turn their wet noses up at me.
Another category of person I meet is the Warden and Ranger. These are the men who stop me and ask me what my business is. Complicated explanations of the Writer in Residence programme ensue. The dominate feeling in these interactions is fear. The wardens approach aggressively because they live in a state of near constant low level fear of some kind of nameless tartar hordes who will ravage the park and for whom they will not be able. They approach in the way inexperienced men do to a task they suspect will find them wanting.
Rain, however, really heavy and miserable ran changes some of this. Firstly, I meet fewer people all told but the ones who are walking or cycling become much more friendly. Everyone returns my greetings with a ‘we must be crazy to be out here in this hey’ sort of grin. Everything becomes much more pleasant, social differences are briefly forgotten and the unclean animal is invited onto the ark.
The wardens still suspect I’m up to no good but while the rain hammers down the atmosphere in my current part of the world becomes a much more pleasant one in which to be building my ark.