Last week I went back to my roots, an emergency retreat from human contact following a period of living a total lie. In preparation for being filmed for a video on narcissism that I shall literally never be able to watch I spent two weeks on a crash diet of broccoli. You’d just expect more from a chimpanzee. Big narcissistic wound which can only be healed by going feral and hanging out with trees.
Going to ground is really hard for me. Like any self-respecting person who grew up in rural England I wanted to leave as soon as I could walk and passed my driving test on my 17th birthday. Not a second to lose to find the place where women only wear heals and you don’t eat creatures that you grew up with. Living abroad I maintained a deep resistance to going home and working in aid allowed me to wallow in my prejudices, post-colonial being a seriously ugly look. Hey ho, dizzy distant days faking it as a superhero totally numbed to my own fragility and humanity.
This bad attitude towards my place of birth changed when the floods came.
2012 Christmas day the river next to my mum and dad’s house is about to break its banks. Cut to scene, passably old parents plus me and my twin building up the river bank using cement slabs at midnight while the aristocratic neighbours wave at us through their window while seated on their sofa.
That Christmas I learned four things.
1. filling sand bags is literally the hardest physical activity known to woman because the sand is going to be wet. Duh.
2. if the bomb drops get some plastic sheeting. It can do everything you’ve ever wanted except marry you.
3. Having found the place where women only wear heals my twin sister insisted in building the river bank wearing an entire Marni outfit. I thought I couldn’t love her any more than I already did.
The following day, as me and my dad are busy filling sandbags the Aristocrat comes over to tell us that our heroic efforts had been “something of an over-reaction”. Despite our neuroses apparently successfully saving his home, the Aristocrat then ends his declaration of war with the words “what what”.
It all goes a bit slow motion then as I look at my father, anticipating class war kicking off in Cirencester probably not for the first time.
Let me explain. My dad comes from poor stock from the Evesham valley. A mixture of farm labourers and foundry workers from Redditch this is the stuff of Thomas Hardy and all the chippy-trans-generational-tragedy of poor families. Like many men of his generation he did good and made money but rather than spending it on useless tatt he got himself an education. Possibly recklessly, from an early age he let me read books written by blokes with beards including Freud and despite his now living in the Florida of the UK and reading the Daily Telegraph somewhere in there the man’s still a Marxist.
So when a posh bloke comes over to tick you off rather than thank you for saving their chances of getting insurance again you expect a certain white trash reaction. Instead I am filled with extraordinary pride as my dad quietly carries on filling sand bags.
I put this frankly uncharacteristic reaction down to Marx.
The reason why my dad didn’t floor the Aristocrat is that at that precise moment my dad was feeling vulnerable. Far from making him weak, on that day it make him more resilient. Marxism is a belief system that is not narcissistic and therefore doesn’t try to deny our vulnerabilities. Actually it puts human vulnerability right at the centre of the political picture and relentlessly won’t let go. That’s often the criticism of Marx, that he’s being a total drama queen. Seriously, just earn loads of money and then some of you can totally avoid the realities of the human condition. While it’s true many Marxists have a taste for the amdrams and the safe moral high ground that comes with having a water-resistant ideology, in a recession the fixation with vulnerability is actually realistic.
So this is the fourth thing I learned from the place that I come from, that being vulnerable doesn’t make you trash or turn you into Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Allowing yourself to feel your emotions, from fear right through to loathing, means you are able to see risk and react to it. Feeling stuff means you know where you really are in life which when the floods come is a pretty good place to start.
It is in this vulnerable state that I return today to the drama of surviving work rather than the tragedy.
And Dad if you’re reading this from your balmy second home in Florida I’m literally begging you to stop reading the Daily Telegraph.
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