Does the world seem good to you?
Does the music get to you?
Does the wisdom of your heart
Show you how to play your part?
All my blond and twilight dreams,
All those strangled future schemes,
All those glasses drained of wine,
All this crazy gift of time...
Kevin Ayers, All This Crazy Gift Of Time, 1968.
Eternity is in love with the productions of time...
William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven & Hell, 1793.
Time is the trick. Time is the missing piece of the puzzle. Time is the bit none of us understands. We are time-bound beings caught in the nick of time.
Stuck in time like a train on its tracks, moving relentlessly on, relentlessly forward. No one knows what it is. No one knows what it is for. It is part of the woof and weave of the fabric of the universe, the fourth dimension of space, but there is absolutely no reason why time should travel forwards. In an alternative universe, perhaps, it travels backwards instead. Indeed, while in this universe space expands and time unravels as it travels forwards, if the universe ever collapsed back in on itself, overcome by the dead hand of gravity, then perhaps time would reel backwards then, like a yo-yo on its string, back to its source.
In fact there is no saying which way round time is supposed to go. How long is a piece of string? Which end is the beginning? Currently we appear to move in one direction, from the mystery before birth, through blissful growth to painful growth to slow decay and peaceful quietude, until we enter again the mystery after death. Who is to say, really, which is the beginning and which is the end? Either way we emerge from a womb and enter a womb.
Perhaps time is always reeling and unreeling, backwards and forwards, like the pulse of the heart valve opening and closing for all eternity.
Is there a life beyond this life? Is there another life?
It depends on your faith, of course.
Do you have a purpose? Is there reason behind your existence? If the answer to either of those questions is “yes” then - it seems logical to me - you must also believe in a life beyond this life.
If death is the end life can have no purpose and there can be no reason.
You can’t have it both ways. If life is an accident, there is no purpose and there is no reason, and there is no life beyond this life. But if life is not an accident, if it has purpose and it has reason, then at the very least someone somewhere must be taking note of it. At the very least, it must be being marked down in the records of eternity, like a video awaiting playback.
In the end, perhaps, we have to make a choice. Do we live our lives as if they have purpose, as if there is a reason? Or do we choose to live them as if they are the products of some meaningless accident, as if matter slipped up on itself somehow and accidently gave birth to consciousness?
As time-bound beings we cannot think of time in any other way but as something eternally disappearing into the eternal past, eternally lost.
But, freed of time, time is a dimension like any other. We can travel back and forth in it at will.
In the time beyond time maybe time is a country we can explore.
Which is where I take Fred to be right now: in a country beyond time.
So, now, back inside this time, on time’s tracks, somewhere in the South East corner of that venerable old country we call England (relatively ancient, but merely a staging-post in the vast sweep of time) having been through some adventures on the Western side of the country, and with two women, at least, under his belt (as it were) Fred is settling down to yet more drinking.
I’d never known just how much he drank until this trip.
Prior to that - yes! - we’d done a lot of drinking together. But, me, I can’t keep it up beyond a day or two. My body gives way, and I have to rest. What I never knew about Fred until this moment was that for him every day is a drinking session. Every day from morning till night. Every day bar none.
I came back from our trip burdened and unsure. All this stuff going on in my head. All these suspicions I was carrying around with me. Was he a paedophile? What had really happened between him and his kids? Why had his eldest daughter disowned him? And how did he make his money? Was he really a sparky? Or did he deal in child porn?
I thought that the answer to this last question was definitely no, since I thought I understood the source of his strange outburst in front of my friends in Glastonbury. It was what he considered a joke. But it takes a peculiarly deranged person to think of paedophilia as a suitable subject for a joke, and, even if it all turned out to be some kind of a misunderstanding - which still wasn’t clear - the fact remained that he had behaved appallingly, that he had insulted his hosts, my friends, who were merely offering him shelter and food for the night, and that he had not apologised to anyone for any of it, least of all me. Meanwhile he was two-timing one of my best friends.
All this time. All these moments. All these strands of history knotted together. It’s hard to disentangle it all.
What happened next?
There was a phone call. Fred and his Kentish girlfriend had gone on a holiday together with a number of our friends. This was a few weeks later. It was a weekend trip to Butlins Holiday Camp. Fred had his child by his second marriage with him, a little girl of about eight. Another of my friends also taken her child. She was about the same age.
I was at home, doing the washing up, when the phone rang. It was Fred.
“Hello,” he said, laughing, “guess where I am?”
“I dunno, Fred, where are you?”
“I’m in the shower.”
“OK, you‘re in the shower. So why are you ringing me up?”
“Yes, I’m in the shower with two little girls. Two little eight year old girls. We are all naked aren’t we girls? Having a shower. Ha-ha.”
The sounds of giggles in the background.
“Why are you telling me this Fred?” I asked.
“Because I thought you ought to know.”
“Fuck you Fred,” I said, and slammed down the phone.
When my friends got back from their holiday I felt I needed to unburden myself. I spoke to a woman who was on the holiday with him, an old friend, and a close friend of M---, the woman he was going out with in Kent. We were down the pub. I told it all. The weird behaviour. The strange hints. The phone call from the holiday camp. The woman in Glastonbury. The night I’d spent in his room, listening to him making love. The drinking. The lot.
And as I finished, right on cue, Fred walked in.
“So you’ve got a girlfriend in Glastonbury?” my friend blurted out. “You’re fucking someone else behind M---’s back?”
Which wasn’t exactly what I was intending. Fucking someone else behind M----’s back was the least of his crimes. At least M---- was an adult.
Fred turned on me.
“Why did you tell on me?” he said.
“Why shouldn’t I?”
“Cos you’re my friend. Cos you’re a man. Cos you’re supposed to be loyal.”
“I don’t remember promising any of that,” I said.
I really wasn’t sure I wanted anything to do with him any more.
But this story isn’t finished yet.