I can no longer find the YouTube video taken by a man who was on the observation platform at the Kennedy Space Centre, waiting to record the launch of the shuttle. He had his camera carefully trained and focussed, the picture was clear and steady, and behind him, out of view, we could hear all the others who were also waiting to film the launch. It was a bright day, a big open sky, not a cloud in sight, but nothing much to watch either. Then we began to hear the murmur of the crowd, and the murmurs grew, along with a few excited yips and sharp intakes of breath… “Yeah! There she is!” … the oohs and ahhhs became sharper… was the camera shaking a little bit? But still nothing was happening in our lens… and then the murmurs became a crescendo of excitement, of yipping and whistling and hooting with delight… still nothing to see… no smoke, no movement, no nothing…. and then we heard a soft exclamation of dismay and the camera swung around and … yes! It had been pointing the wrong way. The cameraman was there, primed and ready, with all his enthusiasm and good intentions, on the observation point, but the shuttle he was looking at wasn’t going anywhere any time soon. All he captured was the tail end of the smoke and steam, the shuttle just a distant dot.
Poor bloke! But it seems to me that’s what we’re doing too – the majority of us anyway – in lockdown. Looking the wrong way. Missing the stuff we really need to see.
Apart from an hour on Sundays, and a couple of Skype calls each week, my home is silent all day, every day, until the evening. And although life just now is too solitary and the days can seem pretty pointless, I still love this silence. A few years ago I listened to the radio just about all the time, or playlists, I never missed Ken Bruce on Radio2 in the morning or the afternoon drama on Radio 4, and of course there were always people coming by and conversations to be had with friends. The days were so busy I wrote at night. Now, just silence.
Silence. Ahhhh. I heard last week that the word ‘shalom’, usually translated as ‘peace’, can also mean ‘whole’. That makes perfect sense to me – the silence and peace of my home is complete, it’s unbroken, like the surface of a deep clear pond. Whole.
Silence is a little breath of heaven, and when the clamour of the world is hushed we can calm and settle and listen out for God.
Good, eh? Dead pious, what? Hang on while I polish me halo.
But – hey – this is me. A ripple on the surface of the pond has its own beauty too. I like ripples. By late afternoon I’m ready for a bit of a laugh, or a bop to Tina Turner, or a silly dance to ‘I would walk 500 miles…’ around the kitchen, with the dogs barking at my sudden spurt of energy, and I’m longing for a conversation with someone, anyone (almost anyone) …. to tell them what I’ve discovered today, hear what they’ve discovered, argue and laugh and all that…. You know? Annoy each other. Enjoy our differences. I’ve just worked out – it’s five days since my last conversation.
It’s all about balance. The silence is lovely but we are also meant to be in contact with others, we are meant to be part of something bigger. We need the human voice or the human heart beating beside us. You can have too much of a good thing.
Anyway, by late afternoon the silence is getting a bit stale even for me so I stick a playlist on too loud and when 6pm comes around the telly goes on and that’s when all hell breaks loose. Almost literally. Have you noticed hell in lockdown? Almost-literal hell piped into our sitting rooms? Have you clocked how many killings and how much grubby voyeurism there is on the box? Think about it, my friends. There are docs and dramas about serial killers, homicidal psychopaths, drunken killers, greedy killers, sexual predators, missing children, missing adults, child abuse, drug overdoses, cold cases and forensics, drive-by shootings, interviews with lawyers and psychiatrists and plods, and there are dramas that glorify insanely blithe fictional people whose life is one big killing spree, or re-enactments raking the coals over some shabby murder half a lifetime ago. Some of these dramas are well crafted and there’s superb acting, great production values, and just like everyone else I get suckered in. I loved “Killing Eve” which is just about the most preposterous series ever (oh, no, hang on, first there was Dexter…) And just like everyone else I find myself on the side of the killer… just like I empathised with Tony Soprano….
As a sort of segue, that’s what makes Fargo so good. We never side with the two killers, we see the weakness and pettiness of one and the evil of the other, and we are allowed to see the consequences of small lies and petty deceptions. We are taken down a road clearly signposted “There but for the grace of God….”
At the start of lockdown I watched many of these murderous offerings and was glad to, but after overdosing on this unbalanced diet for months on end, I can’t help muttering as I flick through the schedule “Enough! Enough with the raped/tortured/tied, enough with the throttled/shot/kidnapped, enough with the poisoned/knifed/drowned… enough!” Last night I saw someone being suspended from a ceiling, upside down, manacled and hog tied, ready to have his throat slit. At that point I stopped searching for something watchable and turned off. Went back to reading a book.
I’ve been part of the TV industry for nearly forty years, and written well over a hundred prime time hours of drama but only 3 of them featured murders. Why so few? Because I have always understood – like everyone else – that murder is evil and wrong, but as a dramatist I’ve also always understood that murder is peculiarly banal and mindless and futile and grubby. And murderers are weak, boring and sad. I’ve met a few, so I can say that with some confidence.
The documentaries we’ve had over the last year demonstrate the truth of this, over and over again. Murderers are dull and broken people, weak and often stupid, sometimes deluded and narcissistic, and their stories just pathetic tales of wasted lives, to be pitied. So why have we spun a whole damn industry out of them? What is the fascination? I just don’t get it. And when we are so busy looking in their direction, what delight and depth and colour are we missing in the other directions? Isn’t the fullness of life more interesting than bloody old murders? The battle between good and evil isn’t restricted to homicide; the desire for love and understanding, the pain of loss and the struggle to recover, deceit and painful honesty, the emotional damage we wreak on each other, these are more intriguing surely? Murder can never be put right, never be undone, but the small and thoughtless things we do to each other, the betrayals and hurts, they are the dramatic stuff of real life, they can be resolved or abandoned… forgiven or revenged… that’s where conflict lies, not in a bullet or a knife. And btw, in these thrillers it’s nearly always women who are the most tortured victims. Funny that, in a world of mostly male writers, eh?
Grrrr. Someone help me down from my soap box. Thanks.
But we don’t have to watch the dross. I should have stopped watching it weeks ago. There are great films available too, there’s one called ‘All The News Of The World’ (with Tom Hanks) and there’s another called ‘The Peanut Butter Falcon’ but in addition to Hollywood films there’s fresh home made fare to be had! We have something else to look at, so swing that mental camera around and look the other way. The BBC have visited three Benedictine monasteries and have made a film in each of these prayer saturated communities, two in England and one in Scotland. I’ll talk about the Scottish one, because that was the contemplative, calmest, most beautiful (to me, anyway). There’s no voice-over, no music, no speech within the film, nothing but the life portrayed, and so it’s an hour of gentle contemplation, balm to my soul. The silence of the cloisters melding with the silence of my fireside so that I seemed to be sharing their sunlit gardens and misty orchard, it was as if I was there with them, and not here, alone. The film was shot by static camera , to reveal life as it’s lived out not performed, and there is no camera or sound crew in the scene. As always, the Rule of Benedict was followed as it has been for well over a thousand years and we saw it as it always is. The only decisions to be made were made in the positioning of the cameras and then the editing. The only sounds in this Scottish film were bird song, the scrape of a chair on a stone floor, the soft clack-clack-clack of a loom, the buzz of bees, and then, as their evening fell, there was Gregorian chant sounding as if filtered through muslin, or carried on a hallowed breeze. In this monastery the simple rituals are spoken in Latin and the sound of it fed my soul when, at the very end, we heard the Gloria Patri (Glory be to God) sung, or chanted. My soul did a little jig of joy as it heard the last words of that familiar doxology ‘in saecula saeculorum, amen’
I’m as far from Catholic as I can be, I don’t share many of their doctrines and practices, but there are some Latin phrases that are forever in my bones – ‘in saecula saeculorum,’….. the true translation is ‘into the ages of the ages’ but as a child I understood it as ‘for ever and ever’ and that takes me right back to the Mass, to Benediction, to the years when I wanted to know God but kept missing him!
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
Both now and always, forever and ever, amen.
Mind you, the Rule of St Benedict is just man made so there are some less than impressive bits…. quite a lot of ceremonial robes and ritual in the other two films, the English monasteries, rosary beads and kissing icons…. Oh, and St Benedict left a rule stating ‘we absolutely condemn all talk leading to laughter’ and he’s deffo on his own there. Remind me not to sit next to him when we get up yonder. What a pain! It’s all about balance, Benedict!
And here’s the view from my window, not a monastery, but certainly peaceful.