There are two topics I’d like to discuss this morning – one is a short narrative about mutant hands, the other The Romantics.
Good juxtaposition, no?
I’ll start with the poets.
Last night I watched the first episode of Simon Schama’s documentary on The Romantic Movement – The Romantics and Us.
Apart from the shame that I am watching too much TV, it was interesting as my son is studying this for his A-Level English and he has become fascinated by the movement and its ideals.
For those not in the know, as I wasn’t really, these are the poets and artists who started with William Blake and Théodore Géricault (I found out how to pronounce this for the first-time last night… it’s like Jericho with an ‘ee’ on the ‘i’ and a long, low ‘o’ on the ‘o’) and were followed by Mary Wollstonecraft, Shelley, Wordsworth and Byron.
The conversation started earlier in the day as we were driving to the lake at Rother Valley Country Park; ‘What an awful day,’ I said, ‘Not really, it’s winter, look at the trees, the falling leaves, the open sky,’ responded my son.
I’m not one to rain on my children’s parade so I let it lie; he then as we walked went on to talk about the Peterloo Massacre and Shelley running off with Mary after his first wife killed herself; typical dog-walking chat.
To be honest, I didn’t quite understand what he was talking about; it all came clear with the documentary which I urge readers to watch (available on iPlayer).
Perhaps the most poignant (there’s that word again… two days in a row) was the explanation for Géricault’s painting ‘The Raft of the Medusa’ which we used to have hanging in our spare room (not sure where it has gone) – Anne and the kids bought it the other year after a visit to The Louvre.
Anyway, the highlight of the painting for them was the fact that supposedly Géricault was not very good at painting feet and, well, on the raft there aren’t many feet.
Schama told the story in more detail which was filled with the topsy-turvy shenanigans of insider and privileged white upper-class prejudice which are central to how society is run nowadays; essentially a posh but ill equipped and inexperienced man was put in charge of ‘The Medusa’ on a trip to Senegal; the ship en-route sank; the wealthy passengers clambered on board the lifeboats and got away; the poor – the servants, slaves and general underclass were popped onto a raft which the lifeboats intended to tow.
In an act of unspeakable cruelty (which I am sure would never be replicated in 2020 Europe or America), because of the raft dragging the lifeboats and stopping their progress, the captain chopped the rope and left the raft to float.
Of the 147 initial survivors, by the time they were rescued 13 days later only 15 were still alive, the others had been murdered, cannibalised or thrown into the sea.
The documentary combines this with images of refugees struggling to cross the English Channel and the message is compounded.
I won’t describe more as you can watch the programme.
Now to ‘the hand’
Well, I don’t like to write about my dreams as in most instances there is little more tedious than listening to someone talk about their dreams; apologies; you can stop reading here if you like; I won’t be offended.
It’s nothing really; just dreamed last night that a small lump on my left wrist grew rapidly to become a warty tumour.
I asked Anne whether she would cut it off but looking at it she was concerned that it might be something nasty.
Only a couple of days passed before I realised that the warty blog on my wrist was actually a tiny hand, four fingers and a thumb, initially boneless and wobbly, but rapidly acquiring form and structure.
By this point we decided that I needed to see a doctor; for whatever reason we decided a dermatologist would be best – I guess, because initially it was all about the skin – there were no bones at that stage.
The doctors were impressed, not particularly shocked but interested; after all, is that not the height of clinical achievement – to have a condition that interests a doctor; if you are lucky, after the pandemic they might even write an article.
Within hours the hand was formed and although initially it appeared to be under control of my autonomic nervous system, rapidly, I worked-out how to move it myself; I could shake the doctor’s hand, twice, if not three times if you could left-handed handshakes as valid.
Eventually, an ulna started to grow from the wrist, little incremental accretions of bone, like the work of the 3D printers that were all the rage in the spring.
It rapidly became apparent that the hand then the arm were actually growing into a replica of me; that soon I would be copied, overtaken with the consequential decision as to who should be cut-off and put into formalin.
Such dreams are never much fun.
And where did all this come from?
Well, to step outside of the dream for a moment, and, on reflection by analysing what I had been up to yesterday, I had a profound experience reading the blog of a former colleague who has recently been diagnosed with MS.
You can find the link here.
Rebecca’s experiences that she describes so honestly and with such humour and compassion were powerful; it is bad enough to have a disease such as MS – for this to happen during Covid is another thing. Delay to diagnosis and treatment, the distance or inaccessibility of specialist care a recurrent theme.
During the pandemic I have spoken to more people than I remember, when you don’t meet relatives or carers face to face they become abstract. ‘I’m sorry, your mum is dying,’ or, ‘Your dad has Covid,’ words I never imagined saying, repeatedly down a disembodied phone connection.
The experience for me has been numbing; often painful and mostly sad.
In Rebecca’s blog, ‘You’re getting on my last nerve’ she tells how it is to be the person at the other end of the line.