Tuesday, 15 August 2017

This year's free Halloween short story...

The Meaning of a Life
October 31st
On this blog






The Meaning of a Life cover - picture of a cave


Sunday, 16 July 2017

We're not ready for the end of the world

Globe


A few years ago I wrote an article for a niche US publication in which I speculated that there could be a referendum on Britain leaving the EU (even the re-election of the Tories, the only party offering this, seemed unlikely at the time) and that this could possibly relate to eschatology (note to the uninitiated – eschatology refers to the study of the end of the world).

We are not ready for the end of the world.

I’m really not any kind of prophet and I don’t claim to be, but it reminded me that just sometimes I can be right. Just sometimes. (My wife would say ‘very, very occasionally’). I’ve always preferred beginnings to endings, but I am still fascinated by the theories and mythology that accompany the end of days. In story terms I prefer beginnings, the blank page, the start, the hook and the possibility. But endings naturally fascinate many of us. We want to know what is going to happen in the end and we want it to satisfy. Part of us wants to see the sky fall.

As better people than me have said: ‘We face immense adversity’. Most of us. We face all kinds of problems. I’m going to spare you the pessimism of my Christian worldview as I’m not a literalist and I don’t really know how the end times are ever going to pan out. Some people say that the end times can be mitigated through prayer and preparation. But safe to say I don’t think we are in the last of the last days yet. If there is anything I have been conscientious in, it is in not alarming people by saying that the world is about to end imminently. I have never misled people in this. To be honest, I’ve rarely led people at all, but please indulge me unless you think I have no care for you as a reader. I have usually been as honest as I can be, I have a little integrity. So despite rumours to the contrary it is not the end of the world. There is hope for your children (if you have them) to live full lives without the fear of getting raptured (and, believe me, in some circles, there is a lot of fear surrounding the rapture). 

Things are grim on this island for many of us these days in 2017. There is no getting round it. I think it was the TV series ‘Lost’ where a character exclaims: ‘…we're just going to go crazy waiting for the next bad thing to happen’. Lost was about a group of survivors stuck on an island and that may sound like a familiar plot to us in the UK.

Seriously, even if the rich elites stockpile gold and have reinforced boltholes in Alaska because they ‘know things’, it still doesn’t mean that the world is about to end. They live in fortresses like Prospero’s castle in Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death. But my theory is that things were just as grim in 1666 when the plagues hit Britain and the great fire of London burnt it all out. They blamed the terrorists then too – except they said the terrorists were Catholics not Muslims. It is convenient for a Government to have an enemy like that. It is in the Government’s political interest for us to have a common enemy of flesh and blood. When really we should be fighting together against so many other adversaries that are not human or animal.

I was so fascinated by eschatology that I wrote a whole fictional novel about it for the writing contest NaNoWriMo, speculating about end of the world scenarios. Accepted thinking is that the earth is destroyed by the sun in millions of years and that the hope for humanity centres around finding the technology to occupy some other world. But even then, accepted wisdom is that, eventually, the universe will either expand or collapse into some kind of oblivion. There is no hope. We’re doomed, if you subscribe to the narratives of scientific speculation… and they are narratives and speculation (unless we are somehow able to transcend the physical universe or you are able to see some kind of strange beauty in transience and meaninglessness).

Christian thinking is that there are not millions of years. That what is left are the last raindrops of a storm and that another storm is coming. But my point is that we are not prepared for nuclear holocaust, a third world war or the opening of the abyss from the hadron collider. We are not the generation to deal with these things on top of all the rest of our problems.

What I’m trying to say is this – whether you are fascinated by beginnings or endings, by the past or the future, you have to accept that our interest in current affairs and in what will become of us is almost certainly (and I’m 99% sure) going to revolve around the sun getting turned to darkness, the moon to blood and the stars falling from the sky. When I say this I’m using the Bible’s own metaphors when it comes to sun and moon and stars. In the story of Joseph in Genesis, Joseph has a dream in which the sun is a metaphor for his father, the moon for his mother and the stars for his siblings. Presumably the end of the world, and the end of all our worlds is the loss of our own lives and that of our friends and family. Some suns have already darkened. Some moons have already turned to blood. Some stars have fallen. And this is sad and real and something we all face if we have not faced it already – it is going to happen. We can’t escape it through a portal or through any other means. I’m sorry, but as Jim Morrison said, ‘No-one here gets out alive’. All we can do is prepare. Or distract ourselves.

However it feels at the moment for some of us, it is unlikely that we are the last generation. It is a coincidence too far that just as the digital, information and news revolution has taken place that we somehow suddenly face the end of the world too. We are more likely to lose our own suns, moons and stars and experience our own world ends on a micro level. And so, on that level, yes, suffering is always going to be with us and we are always going to be afraid as long as we live and the end of the world could be imminent (quite probably through house fire, car crash or some disease (please check your smoke alarms – I have too few readers already and don’t want one less)). We are unlikely to die from a terrorist attack. I’m sorry, but we’re just not. We are unlikely to die through an end of the world scenario. We are likely to die before the end of the world takes place and who knows if we will ever see how that happens.

I’m a little sad about the jaded tone of this blog entry. But that’s not the end of the world.


Think happy thoughts.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

The Second Review



Pastor L. J. Darkside, following his controversial review of 'Life', has penned another review for the appraisal of those who remain on this planet. Enjoy...


The Second Review

(by Pastor L. J. Darkside)

In my review of today’s theatre performance I am compelled not to be too biting. As I have said repeatedly to my readers: ‘I don’t bite’.

My first point would be to say that none of the show was realistic. It was an anachronism. The aesthetics were lacking in some way. I appreciated the slightly camp symbolism in the ‘over the rainbow’ entrance and the psychedelic lighting which filled the huge venue. It was – perhaps, like Sharif’s horseback entrance in Laurence of Arabia in some ways. Except the desert was the barrenness of the scriptwriter’s imagination in this particular production.

But please, spare me the clouds and the flying horses. If one were a marketer or advertiser, one would use the visuals to promote beer, which, is, ironically, precisely what I require after experiencing this shambles.

Not that it was without merit. In some ways it was like a forgotten Frankie Goes to Hollywood video – but I could clearly see the discrepancy between reality and the cloudy backdrop. The effects were lacking. Aren’t we beyond this? I mean – angels – really? Angels. As, I say, archaic and condescending in many respects.

I had heard much about this show prior to its release – rumour had it that it would be a satisfying end to anyone’s day. There was a mixture of expectancy and nervousness surrounding the whole performance. How long did it even take to recruit such a vast army of extras? Points are gained for detail, but that is all.

And that was the problem for me. It simply was not realistic enough, at some points it went into out and out fantasy. There was no life to it. It lacked the X-factor.

The rest of the audience seemed to be either thrilled or horrified. One man turned to me and said ‘Told you so’. What was that even supposed to mean? Clearly we held very different artistic sensibilities. We were in very different places.

As a production, it appeared to be performed simultaneously across the globe. And that was the problem, not merely the appropriation of the platform to force this performance on (often unwilling) crowds, but the thoughtlessness, the crass nature of the whole drama. Some of us were busy.
I am not one to criticise a free performance without cause. I am no philistine and I have reviewed many, many such shows for papers. But the audience was clearly divided in their appreciation and reaction.

I cannot, of course, criticise the aesthetics inasmuch that the special effects were effective to an extent. But please – a man on a white horse coming in the clouds to save humanity? In terms of narrative it lacked any satisfaction on a personal level. In terms of endings it was both predictable and slightly depressing. At least for me.

Spoiler alert: The lacklustre character on the white horse won – at least in some people’s eyes. So predictable. And unnecessarily violent. There seemed to be an underlying hypocrisy to it all. It was even gory in places when the dragon character succumbed to the mouth-sword prop. A bit of an over-reaction towards a character with no discernible or meaningful backstory. Was he killed by bad breath? Many of us were left wondering, I can tell you. For some reason I am unable to parallel these archetypal characters with any previous form or genre. I fear they are stereotypes. The best that can be said of them is that they are caricatures, but I am stretching the parameters of my goodwill.
I watched, hoping for some kind of resolution to the drama, some kind of redeeming quality. Drama should be uplifting, especially in these troubled times. But I found that it was not life-affirming at all. I found it to be quite the opposite. I pride myself on being in-touch with my audience and that was one of the problems of this performance – it was so out of touch with the day to day life of the hoi-polloi.

I saw faces in the strangely painted stage clouds and I would suggest that they were the faces of similarly disappointed viewers. At one point I found myself distracted by what seemed to be a great crested newt in a spiral of contrived cumulonimbus. The newt turned to me and said, ‘Remember Tangier?’ I forget the specific point at which this happened, but it seemed incongruous and irrelevant, my fascination with this detail only revealing the depth of my ennui.

Then there was the whole battle scene – both brief and unsatisfying. The dragon character seemed to come from nowhere and was dispatched with the sword-prop coming from the mouth of the protagonist in an instant. Many viewers were left wondering what on earth was going on. The antagonist had popped up from nowhere. What was that all about? An army on horseback riding through the clouds, simultaneously performed at a number of venues? It reminds me of the ending to some half-forgotten tale from childhood. I feel I should remember it, but for the life of me it has passed me by. I would say though that the lead actor was the only one who seemed to be taking the whole proceedings seriously, albeit he was far too melodramatic. Perhaps he could do better things than this. I can see him in a Woody Allen adaptation one day.

The relevance of the trumpets at the start I will leave to your imagination. Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd introduction was less of a cacophony of noise than this. It was an assault to my virgin ears. The shofars were too Jewish.

During the performance, I turned to my neighbour and asked him what he thought. But he was engrossed, his eyes glassy, as if hypnotised. His entire demeanour shouted: ‘Drug-induced psychosis’. I think he had been to the toilets and tried to make the performance more tolerable in the only way he knew how.

The end of the whole show was ridiculous. As I say - It simply was not realistic. Where was the life? Where was the passion? One can sense when there is love behind a performance and I can only think that the actors had all had a bad day or were being underpaid. A massive over-reaction from the protagonist towards the dragon character resulted in it being thrown into some kind of fiery pit which appeared stage left. Surely that was a fire hazard? Indefensible of the producers. The theatre programme suggested a backstory for the protagonist that was a contrast to the angry vengeance he displayed. It seemed as if he and the character from the backstory were two different characters, one kind and gentle, the other the reverse of everything he had ever stood for. And as for that fiery pit – it lacked any kind of beauty. Such an ugly thing. Anyone could have fallen into it at any moment – and it was too literal. Indefensible. I confess to feeling sympathy for the dragon character at this point. It was the sheer predictable didacticism of the performance which was its greatest failure.

Where was the irony? Where was the passion? It was a perfunctory anti-climax. I’m sorry, but it was. No questions were answered. No words were spoken in the whole drama. Pathetic.

Spoiler alert… I laughed at the epilogue – the finale when the audience members began to ascend from their seats. How passé. They were clearly stooges who had been placed in the audience with wires attached. It was a low-brow, people-pleasing effect. If I had wanted to see Wicked I could have gone to the West End any day of the week. Even my neighbour turned out to be one of the plants.
The rest of us watched as the assorted hoi-polloi extras ascended to the clouds. And that was the problem, as I have said – this sheer lack of realism. Most of the audience seemed to be terribly pre-occupied – why stage such a divisive performance during such tense political times? The mind boggles.

I confess to feeling somewhat unnerved, disturbed even by some aspects of the show. But it was disturbing people for the sake of it. Street art is fine – and in effect, that was what this was - but artists do not disturb for the sake of disturbing. It seemed so contrived. I am not the only one who felt no feelgood factor, no affirmation of life. And that is important, because it is important for a show to create a sense of joy, a sense of bliss and there was none of that. Where was the bliss?

End

Note for the editor

I rushed home and was so affected by this performance that I quickly wrote this review. However, I was unable to post my review on the newspaper website as there appears to be a blackout in the area and neither my mobile or computer seem to be working. So I have been forced to write this by hand. That I am reduced to such a platform is a problem but I’m quite sure that you will be in touch presently. At present you appear to be unavailable.

I have some pressing personal matters right now but shall invoice my fee as usual when things return to normal.

Information for review box graphic:

Overall: 1 out of 12 stars.

Positives: The camp portrayal of angels in a sky-based psychedelic backdrop.
Negatives: Where do I start? The protagonist seemed familiar somehow. It detracted from the performance. Had he been in The Bill? I think even I could have done a better job than he did.

Personal note for final draft:

Delete the reference to the cloud-newt. Tangier should not be mentioned for obvious reasons. 

Friday, 16 June 2017

Lost books

Brian Haw


In my glory days, back in the early noughties, I worked in London as a trainee staff writer at a trade magazine. It didn’t last long. The truth is that it was not as glamourous as it may sound and in the end I returned to the Midlands, defeated by London. When a man is tired of London he is tired of life they say. And I left London both tired and a little jaded. London had been fickle to me.

But occasionally I would still go back to the capital. On one journey I met the anti-war protester Brian Haw in Parliament Square in his makeshift protest camp in support of ordinary Iraqi families. He died from cancer as he was a smoker (but this one fault did not outweigh his great principles – he was a man of genuine conviction).

I talked with him a little in Parliament Square. I mumbled about how he needed to be heard in the media and how he deserved to be taken seriously. He spoke to me of how one of the large established churches in London had rejected him and his cause even when he had asked them for help. That was very sad as he was one of the most conscientious Christians I have met and he deserved to be supported. He wore badges on his hat, some of them Christian badges which praised God, others were badges of protest and resistance. He stood (or rather sat) to defend humanity – to defend the ordinary people of Iraq who were suffering because of UK sanctions and who later suffered even more from UK war intervention. He made great personal sacrifices to protest and was treated with disdain by the British Government of the time who preferred war, for their own agendas. The Government considered him to be invisible, as they do to many of those who oppose them. To ignore someone is often an act of enmity.

When I met Brian, he asked me to fetch him some tobacco from a newsagents and I went to the shop and bought a pouch of tobacco for his roll-ups. I didn’t know that he would later die of cancer - I just wanted to be of help at the time. When you are consciously resisting the Government day and night you really do need some kind of comfort and some human faults can be necessary.

And Brian Haw showed me a book which he was writing. It was a handwritten diary of his experiences and life story. He had no computer. He only had pen and paper and principle.
And sometimes, late at night, I wonder what happened to that book.

What happened to it? Where did it go? Why was it never published?

I’ve searched for any reference to Brian Haw’s book over the internet but I can’t find anything. The distrustful, jaded side of me speculates that it was ‘appropriated’ by Government. But it seems to me that it is a little like Anne Frank’s diary. One document is lost, another is held as rightfully important. Sometimes important things are lost or kept private. Sometimes the truth doesn’t out in this lifetime. And how can it without people working towards that?

We all have stories to tell. They are documents. They are often important testimonies to the events which we experience and which we cause. Some are more important than others. But many deserve to be told.

And Brian Haw’s is one of them.



Wednesday, 5 April 2017

The Plan






I’m aware that I’ve been neglecting my loyal reader again.


You probably should know that the Church of England has a new campaign planned for the 25th May – 4th June called ‘Thy Kingdom Come’. In a nutshell the idea is that it will organise people into praying for the country to somehow fill churches again. They say it is a cross-denominational, inclusive initiative.

Just think of all those Christians praying for the people of Britain (whether you like it or not). Filling the post-Brexit vacuum of division and sporadic violence with an atmosphere of love.

Will it work? Sheesh, who knows. But anything that holds back demon-inspired racism and violence has to be a good thing doesn’t it? Anything that lifts up the vulnerable and oppressed in this country sounds okay to me. Of course, the efficacy of prayer is always up for debate and few people expect a paradigm shift.

So that appears to be the Church of England’s plan following Brexit. ‘Pray’. It probably took about 1000 meetings to come up with that one.

‘Surely someone, somewhere has a proper plan?’ I hear you think.

Nope. Hope the world doesn’t end. Don’t immanentize the eschaton. Pray. Try to stay alive. That seems to be the plan.

Think happy thoughts.





Sunday, 29 January 2017

Book launch - Irony by Nick White

Book cover - Irony


“We’re living in strange times.” It was an offhand remark to the electrician as he came to assess a broken cooker. We had been talking about politics. It seemed like a safe, anodyne remark, unlikely to cause offense or to alienate. And maybe it was ironic.

But it’s true – we are living in strange times. Perhaps the times have always been strange, but they are no less strange today than they were before. This world of alternative facts and fake news has driven many of us to the edge of our resources. All kinds of things that we used to take for granted now have to be fought for. It’s partly the fault of the citizen journalists but it’s also true that alternative facts and fake news are not new.

We can say we are post-truth and post-irony and that we are far too sophisticated to accept old dogmas, but there is still that longing for some kind of meaning to it all, some kind of certainty. For some kind of pragmatic way of survival in this strange world. And that is partly why I have written my new book, released today.

It is a non-fiction book which takes an original look at irony in our modern lives. It is a book which extends the definition of irony in line with our modern understanding of the term. And it is written for people who blame God when things go wrong. It’s for the agnostics, for the people who wonder why the believers and atheists are so loud. I make some wild claims in this book. I say that irony needs there to be a story. That it needs there to be an audience. That it implies an ironist in the same way that a story implies a storyteller. But what would the nature of such an ironist be, given the nature of the ironies which we are subject to?

Would it be ironic for there to appear to be patterns in both our lives and in the story of history or in our meta-narratives, stories like the Gospels, Frankenstein or 1984? Or are such things evolutionary survival mechanisms, like the formulation of language or the willingness to arrange our lives into some kind of meaningful story? What is the point of the sword which is irony? Why is it there?

I invite you to read my book as it is written for thinking people like you. People who seek meaning.

It’s available from Amazon here. 

Think happy thoughts.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Irony


My first non-fiction book 'Irony - Evidence for God' will be published soon so it seems right to blog about that.

Of all the evidences for God to be found on the Wiki page, you won't find irony listed. In fact, historically, writers have used irony to argue against the existence of God. Literary giants like Voltaire have used irony to state the alternative view. So, you could say, at the very least, it's an original book.

The book was born out of a growing conviction that the primary sustaining factor in my faith was irony. That irony had become a kind of secret pain in so many chapters of my life. A pain so intimate and seemingly-orchestrated that to see it as dumb luck or coincidence was more unlikely than any other possibility. That it hinted at the existence of God.

The book talks about this in further detail and about the way God allows irony in all our lives. In the book I call for a wider definition of the word in keeping with today's understanding. Language evolves and for many people irony today is not the strict dictionary definition. What if the real irony of Alanis Morissette's iconic song was that the lyrics really were ironic after all?

Irony can be hypocrisy, 'crazy bad luck' and even serendipity. And, to be honest, sometimes 'Crazy-bad-luck - Evidence for God' felt like a better title. But we live in post-ironic, post-truth, and post-God times - we are far too sophisticated to accept dogmas which we may have been expected to accept in the past.

If you understand, observe and think about irony in your life you will realise that most ironies are negative. So, to say that they are orchestrated by God is a big ask. It is intellectually insulting (at least, if we are to believe that God is good) to say that God has caused ironies to occur. Or worse than that, it is inhuman. So you will be able to see the spiritual gymnastics I take in order to get God off the hook for the bad ironies while still trying to defend human dignity or the remains of my intellect. After all, isn't that what being a believer is about - 1001 ways to defend God even when all reason says he is to blame? Of course, I'm trying to be ironic (or at least being disingenuous). How can irony be evidence for a benevolent God? To find that out you may need to read the book.

Without being too defensive, I'm anticipating a few possible reactions to my book. Firstly (and most likely), I'm anticipating it to be largely ignored. There is a solace in being an obscure, relatively unknown writer in that it means that I'm off the radar of most critics. So, 'Wouldn't it be ironic to totally ignore this diatribe?' is perhaps the most cruel criticism I face. 

But there is also the possibility of a considered counter-argument - that I have misunderstood irony, that I have misunderstood God and that I have taken one too many illogical steps in the formulation of my premise. An unreliable narrator can safely be questioned. I think there are many holes in my argument, but I'm willing to defend it.

Or a worse reaction still, that the universe would have me subject to more negative irony for even daring to write about the subject. Because that's how it all works isn't it? Or that in pointing out God's apparent neglect I have somehow forgotten to toe the faith party line.

The book is written for the agnostics, the seekers, the doubters, the skeptics. It is not primarily aimed at believers or atheists (although I hope that these two groups would at least find it interesting). It is not a very long book as I tend to write shorter books, finding them easier to read myself.

I approached a handful of publishers with the work but unless one of those who ignored me offers me a contract too late (and that really would be ironic) I'm indie-publishing it since I know the process so well. The most fun rejection I had from a publisher was: ‘This is an interesting idea… clearly the Christian faith has plenty of ironies to offer, but irony is not uppermost in the day to day life of the church. I don't think our market would react with sufficient enthusiasm.'

The ironic thing is that it is a book which can help you a little to survive day to day by making progress towards a meaning to life, and pointing away from despair to hope. Surely this helps people to survive (unless Viktor Frankl was wrong about all that)?

However, you don't really need this book. It won't resolve the issue of suffering. It won't make you rich or make your tweets go viral. 'Why should I read it then?' I hear you think.

Firstly, because, you may want to know why everything is conspiring to keep you from reading it.

Secondly, because it's original and brings some fresh ideas forward.

Thirdly, because it's shiny?





Wednesday, 4 January 2017

'Irony - Evidence for God' book trailer

This is the trailer for my first non-fiction book which should be available by Feb 2017.




Monday, 12 December 2016

McArbre

Who spotted the eerie Christmas advert this year hiding behind the schmaltzy music and twinkly glitter?

Here it is, for your enjoyment, with the tinsel torn away... (hoping McDonalds don't sue me).

Happy Christmas.

Think eerie thoughts.



video

Monday, 31 October 2016

The Notebook and the Devil



The Notebook and the Devil

Please picture a room in a mansion located behind a secure, ornate gate. It is the kind of place where the rich go to let their lives marinate, knowing that they have many fine years ahead of them to eat, drink and create a fortress of their homes. Where the recording angels (if there are such things) have no jurisdiction to document the words that are spoken.


There are some who say that houses are like bodies and their occupants are like souls. If that is the case, then the body, at least, is thriving here.
And the conscience of the guest burns, like a blush, for the deeds he is about to do.

In this particular property picture a dining room with a roaring fire in an inglenook fireplace. It is dusk and the fire is like a third occupant within the room. If the flames could speak they would say, ‘We are here to live, dance and die, that is our purpose’. But flames cannot speak and houses are not bodies.

There is a long marble-topped table covered by a white tablecloth. One wall is a window which is now obscured by the eyelid of a closed velvet curtain. The dominant colours within the room are white and red, like the colours of a coral snake. Colours which say ‘Danger’. Colours which say ‘Keep away’. The only noise in the room comes from the crackle of the fire. Strangely, the room smells fusty, like some forgotten church.

Picture the host, the owner of the mansion, his hair as white as this room’s walls, but for a slight yellowy tinge. His fingers are stained with tobacco. He sits at one end of the table and seems relaxed.

A young guest sits at the far end of the table. The room itself seems to sing to them, a sweet lullaby which comforts them as much as the bottle of expensive cognac they are sharing.

The host lights up a cigar and leans back into his chair.

“It so happened,” says the host, “That your father began to take an interest in the occult…”

The young guest seems agitated, afraid even, like a man waiting in line for judgment day. “Let me stop you right there Sir, my father was not a man who believed in anything supernatural.”

“Ah, I beg to differ. Your father held a secret fascination for all things occult. Your father’s true fascination was power and the occult was said to be a means to an end.”

The host pauses to blow out a long stream of smoke. “As a young man it seemed to your father that life trundled on as it always did. There was no likelihood of any great change in the future. It seemed to him that this world and this life were all that existed and that a person should adapt and change and enjoy the life he had. But it also seemed to him that there was a way of doing so much better.”
The young guest shakes his head and looks into the dancing flames, so deeply red – he wonders how flames could ever be so red.

The host sighs and continues, “Your father was a great reader and he liked to read his esoteric literature. If you don’t believe me, find access to his kindle reading list, if examined by anyone now it would raise many eyebrows in the department. As a young man your father was interested in occult knowledge, Aleister Crowley, Theosophy, channelling, psychic predictions - all kinds of things like this. And his interest, over the years, grew darker and darker. He was consistently drawn to the more obscure texts and the stranger ideas when it came to esoteric writing. He found his way through esoteric apocrypha the likes of which would make an ordinary man or woman weep. The strangest stories. The strangest writings. This is what your father grew to love and was the other hobby alongside his politics. Because both were a hobby and not work. Your father, from his reading grew to be convinced that he could attain power through making a Faustian pact with the devil.”

The rich young guest splutters mid-sip at this. “That’s ridiculous,” he says. “That is not my father.”

“We all fall into cliché in the end, the only irony is that so many of us avoid it in our words and live it in our lives. Now it so happened that your father also knew that the devil gets a somewhat strange press. The devil, obviously controls the press, but we will leave that for another talk. Your father knew a lot about the devil. Not only did he know all about the traditional scriptural references to the devil, the Book of Job and the passages of Isaiah said to refer to this character, but he also knew the Islamic scriptures and texts concerning the devil. The two versions differed slightly, one devil had a withered arm and a blind eye, the other had vast power but was trumped by God in the same way that a game of top trumps would have one card which beat another card. So your father knew, from this traditional literature that the devil was not to be trusted when it came to making deals. Some have it that the devil is a liar too and that all of his temptations and promises amount to nothing. Your father also researched the devil in folklore and here he found a different devil to the devil of the scriptures – he found a devil who could be outwitted, who could be used to progress in life. He found a devil who could be used to get what he wanted and tricked into not receiving his soul at the end of the whole process. It was this devil in which your father began to believe… began to worship…”

“Hold on, I’m sorry, I have to stop you right there, my father simply wouldn’t believe in the devil. He was his own man.”

“He worked in Government, of course he believed in the devil… and no man is their own, however they may feel. Your father’s devil differed from the devil in the Bible in that he was a far less powerful principality. The devil of folklore which he came to believe in was merely a misunderstood character who could grant wishes. Kind of like a genie. Your father also researched the devil of urban myth and pop culture. It seemed to him that this devil, the one featured in horror films and horror stories was, like the scriptural devil, a caricature of the being he believed in. Once again this devil held huge power, the kind of power which was almost equal to that of God. It seemed to him that this urban myth devil was as fake as the devil of the bible. As I say, your father believed in a folklore devil…. at least at first.”

The guest drinks from his glass of port, at a loss for words. The host gives a wry smile. “It seemed to your father that the devil did have a kind of army of fallen angels at his disposal though. He felt sure that although the devil himself knew nothing of your father that there was a kind of hierarchy in the kingdom of darkness. There were more powerful demons who understood irony and satire, there were less powerful demons who only understood how to provoke violence and who lived in strange dark places like motorway underpasses. These demons, he came to understand had simple agendas. Your father’s reading caused him to understand that both the devil and his army had the agenda of getting humans to either hurt each other or hurt themselves. They provoked fights and incited all kinds of prejudice and violence. They actively caused people to do evil things. But not only did they cause suffering, they also tempted. And your father, through occult reading understood that the language used by the devil was indeed the language of the lie, but that behind all this, behind all the angel in disguise beauty of evil there was also an element of truth. As a candidate for election he understood that the best lies had an element of truth. It wasn’t the devil who had taught him this, it was the MPs. So he discovered that the devils did hold treasures and power of a kind and that they were able to grant wishes. So he decided that he wished for power so that he could progress in his career and gain election. He also wished for money. So, obviously your father needed some kind of summoning power. The trouble is that for anyone who wants to do a deal with the devil they find themselves somewhat stuck at some point – usually at the point of asking for the thing that they want. Some say that the devil cannot read thoughts but that he can have a good guess at what humans are thinking as he has been muddling around them for a few thousand years. So your father, because he believed in a folklore devil, decided that he would summon up Lucifer himself. To cut a long, infernal, story short, your father read a lot of the strangest, most esoteric, most occult, most obscure literature he could find and he compiled his findings into this notebook.”

Suddenly the host holds, as if by some conjuring trick, an old red notebook in his hand. On the front of the notebook, written in faded gold are the words ‘Nobiscum Deus’. The host places it on the table.

“His findings, written in this notebook would enable him to summon the devil to do his bidding in exchange for something he had. So he performed the necessary rituals in his home, he drew the usual pentagrams and protected himself from the evil eye of the devil through eye-shaped charms. He protected himself with all kinds of black magic and he went through the summoning procedure. I will not go into the ingredients of such a ritual as I do not want to give you any ideas and some of the ingredients were gory. Blood, skin, bones, various liquids, an innocent, you know the kind of thing. It’s all in the notebook. So the ritualistic words were said and then your father waited, hoping for an appearance from the devil.

But nothing happened.

No devil appeared and, depressed, your father went to bed. This was all 50 years ago, before his success began, apart from the scandal and the events that followed. And he fell asleep and the devil appeared to your father in a dream. Dreams are supposed to be the royal road to the unconscious and generations past believed that they often came from outside of ourselves too. That this unconscious could be by-passed by angel or demon or God or devil and that messages could be passed which by-passed the machinations of this society in which we live. And although a dream is like life insomuch as a person can take little from it when he or she awakes, the dream could involve agreements and relationships in the same way that a life can contain relationships and agreements even if nothing else can be taken beyond death. So it was with your father. When the devil approached your father in the dream he knew immediately that it was the devil. He appeared to him as the folklore devil he was expecting, cloven hooves, a man of the world, eyes which danced with a strange red fire within them. It is said that the devil is mad because he cannot hope to overcome God but still believes that he can do so. That he is like some kind of feral animal in his hunger to survive. That this is the madness shared by all devils, so they can hope to overcome the very God who created them. A delusion they are subject to like the delusions they create. And this is true enough because when your father looked into the eyes of the devil he knew he was looking into the eyes of a psychopath. He wrote this of the discourse…”

At this point the host picks up the notebook and begins to read.

‘Greetings’ said the devil to me, whistling to himself in the dream.
‘Hello Sir’ I replied full of a deferential respect I would not give to any man.
‘And what can I do for you today? I believe you called me?’
I was irritated that the devil was English but had no more than thought this thought when he spoke again, ‘I appear in whatever necessary form I need to appear. I assure you that I spend a lot of time in England.’

 ‘I wondered if you would do me a favour kind Sir and give me power and money?’
‘Quid pro quo good fellow, quid pro quo, what will you do for me in return?’
‘What do you want?’
‘What do I want? What do I want? I have never told a mortal what I want. When someone knows what you want they have power over you. Do you expect me to break the habit of a lifetime? Ask instead, what do I need?’
‘What do you need?’ asked your father.
‘I am so sorry to fall into fiction and stereotype like this, goodness knows they demonise me enough already but I’m afraid I will require your eternal soul.’
‘Is this so you can torture me forever in hell’?
‘Not at all, if we go to hell we will both be in unendurable torture (oh how that makes me so angry), what can I possibly do with your soul in hell? I am afraid I will require your soul in this lifetime, after that you can have it back. There are certain things which I would like you to accomplish on this earth. And you must not listen to all those who say that my only agenda is to destroy and for you to harm others and yourself. And you must not listen to those who say I can only speak the lie and that the lie is the only language that I know. Because we all know that every lie contains a kernel of truth in it or else it would not be a successful lie. And if I said that I know a lot about lies would I be telling the truth anyway? There are all kinds of narratives there really are dear friend. Dear, dear, precious man, there is so much that I could tell you and yet I really don’t think that your beautiful mind could comprehend all that I know. ’
It was most disturbing.
‘And if I let you have my soul in my lifetime you will give me power and money?’
‘Yes. Or no. Maybe.’
‘How can I be sure you won’t lie to me?’
‘If I build you a bridge then I require something in return. It may not be so much about lying as whose story you believe. Don’t believe the rumours about me,’ replied the devil.

The host places the notebook back on the table.

“Now anyone with any kind of sense would realize that the devil’s word is probably not going to be something which has a very great commitment to it. Anyone who is anyone realizes that the devil is going to lie whatever he says and that in many ways your father was not going to come out of this whole survival situation which we call life very well. However, there was no accounting for your father’s folly when it came to be blinded by riches and power. He wanted those things so badly that he was prepared to believe that he would receive them because the devil had given his word. Besides which, he had done his reading and realized that the devil could probably be tricked in some way by sending a dog over a metaphorical bridge or something like that at some point. So your father agreed and in the moment of his agreeing in thought he woke up in bed to find blood on the sheets. And that was how the deal was made. It’s all in the notebook.

You know most of the rest. I can tell you that your father did attain power. It was strange to him as he had only believed in a relatively powerless folk devil - that the devil should have such influence in Government. That MP’s and Lords, even the Prime Minister should suddenly look on him with new eyes and seem to offer him such deferential treatment and such opportunities for progression that within a year he was at the top of his game and, through a portfolio of new shares, earning more than he had ever earned. So the devil was true to his side of his bargain, your father became both powerful and rich. He was also a little worried about what the devil would ask of him, knowing how these kind of things tend to go in the popular mind, among the hoi-polloi. So he began to plan. As he planned he discovered that his folk-lore devil was inaccurate. He realized that a lot of the literature about the devil was incorrect. He began to realize that there were likely going to be only two ways to trick this devil since he discovered that the true devil was closer to the urban myth devil of vast power. These were his two options:

One. He could escape the devil’s clutches by submitting to a higher power. The trouble with praying to God, which he found was the required action, was that he would probably be called to give up his power and position, something which was a bit of a deal-breaker for your father. So he ruled that one out.

But there was one other option. Through careful reading of the Book of Job and further reading of folklore stories he discovered one element which was common in defeating the devil. Endurance.
Sure there were stories of people outwitting the devil by giving some animal in exchange for their own soul, sure there were stories of the devil being outwitted by a clever scheme, but your father, through careful study of Job realized that Job only outwitted the devil through endurance. Job resisted the devil and this was the way in which he escaped. So your father determined to do the same.
When the devil appeared to him again once more in a dream he demanded that your father begin to serve him as a slave. He demanded that your father begin to harm other people, to bring about those laws which would cause the most suffering. Because this is what the devil does.

So your father summoned up all his resistance and said:

‘No. I’m not going to do it.’
‘What did you say?’ asked the tyrant the devil.
‘I said no. I utterly resist you like Job did.’
‘Ahhh. The one time I was defeated by a mortal, or am I lying? But you will understand what the allegorical Job had to go through a lot before he tricked me?’

And so it was that when your father woke up he was covered in sores. The sores were so painful and suddenly there was a phone call from the Prime Minister to say that the great scandal you know about had occurred and that he must fall on his sword and resign. And suddenly family and friends began to die. And suddenly his house burned down, as you know, and his portfolio of risky shares became almost worthless. Even his bank claimed he had never had an account with them in the first place. His reputation was lost. And suddenly your father had nothing apart from his diseases. He was like Job except he was homeless.
And the devil appeared to him during his torture in another dream when your father was sleeping homeless on the streets of London.

‘Changed your mind yet?’
‘Yes sir’ said your father.

And that was how your father got better. That was how he regained his wealth and power and how he got a new home. He regained his riches, his portfolio of shares and a whole new family. He was more blessed than he had been before his downfall. He went back to serving the devil and he was a good servant and nothing else went wrong for him in his life, before he died the natural death last week, full of years and the happiness of a life lived in the service of Government.”

The young guest seems to be thinking about all this. “Do you believe in the devil?” he asks finally.

“Doesn’t life experience say it is intellectually insulting to do otherwise?” replies the host.

“But that is deeply disturbing,”

“There are more angels than demons.”

“You’re not the devil are you?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, you know I’m simply an old friend of your late father. The devil is not flesh and blood. I am merely telling you the true story of your father’s success, a fine man, a great man. I hear that they will be building a statue of him. But tell me, how long is it until the by-election vote again?”

The guest sighs as if remembering his anguish. “Two days, but I’m unlikely to win. The other candidate can’t seem to put a foot wrong. I don’t know what to do to win it.”


Then the host sips the last of his glass of cognac, stands and leaves the room. The young guest is alone. There is only the sound of the dancing fire which seems to say ‘Take up and read, take up and read’, the feverish lullaby of a hall and a marble table with an old red notebook on it emblazoned with the words ‘Nobiscum Deus’.