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Journal of Distraction - by Michael Kelly

Week 3 - Monday

One of the malign side-effects of working is that I keep making the mistake of buying the papers to read on the bus. Powerless people shouldn't read newspapers, and that's every one of us outside the golden circle. The daily insanity is none of my business, I can't stop it... I am a lightweight and a flibbertigibbet, a bloodless aesthete who wants only to loll around on divans and sigh over flowers... a happy-go-lucky moron, the sensual man in the street... I should be exempted from giving a damn.

Some prick in immigration or the civil service thinks a Somalian gunman would be a welcome addition to the country - or the EU forces us to keep him - a policewoman is dead. What can I do? I am merely an unusually handsome filing clerk trying to get by. On the other hand the state goes to extraordinary lengths to try to deport an immigrant who had won a scholarship to Oxbridge. I can't help that and I don't want ulcers, tell someone else.

Killers and hijackers can't be deported because they don't want to go to places that have scary people, bless them. A psychotic rapist is released from jail to kill a woman, because it would have violated his 'human rights' to be kept in prison... Not my fault, squire, I've never knowingly fed, sheltered, or spoken a kind word to any member of the legal profession... I could write some pissy little satire, but even if was possible to exaggerate such daily grotesquerie, it would merely give Them ideas what to do next.

The social services are taking children away from parents with learning difficulties and putting them into care homes, to meet targets for putting kids into care.

That one struck too close to home. My parents are barely able to dress me and indeed have given up trying in recent years. They play the lottery and never watch BBC4. Yet I am able to sense their affection for me on some rude animal level and I would certainly not wish to be taken away from them. I am too pretty to go to an orphanage.

This... what? Children get left with parents who torture them, but taken away from loving types who smile slightly too much and aren't going to win any spelling bees? Who, who, who can I write to? Who can I stab? The poor bastards will get sent two pictures of the kids a year. That will be nice for them.

Forget all fancy political theories. The devil stalks among us. Deep down we all know it. Or at least it's as good an explanation as any for the constant, unrelenting, across-the-board, wilful and deliberate doing of the exact wrong thing in any given situation.

On Friday I had an ace conversation with ____ O'______ from the second floor about decadence. I don't know if she's read Spengler or whatever - she's about fifty and kind of sophisticated and obviously far too smart for the moronic job she does - but we were moaning about everything and she was all 'All societies have their natural life-cycle' and that we were doomed, doooomed to go the way of the Romans. And I tried to convince her that was horseshit and it denied personal responsibility and we could turn things around if we got it together, but she just shook her head. And I nearly told her my patented loophole in Spengler that I came up with to try and impress a girl years ago who was into him but depressed by him (even though I've never read him and had only read about him to try to keep up with her), but I didn't, but we really got into it and it was a good conversation, exhilarating, especially because we were bunking off work to have it. I was talking out of my arse and mindless optimism, but it was a good talking out of my arse, because to hell with historical forces or whatever, individual action trumps it every time. And we're all to blame for what's happening. Well, we're not, we're not at all, it's our leaders and the elite in general, but we allow them to do it.

But reading the papers today - for the last time, I vow again - I decided she had a bloody point and that maybe this was how the Romans felt after Hadrian's Wall fell, the powerlessness, the impotent disbelief... the longing for someone, some man on horseback, someone competent and decisive to put things together again... frightening thought, is that how they felt in the Weimar Republic?...

And of course decadence can be liberating and corruption can be fun. And I'm a child of decadence, and if I didn't reconcile myself to that I'd go insane, and in any non-decadent society I would have been exposed on a hillside at birth, or stoned to death the first time my writings were distributed. And I would definitely have preferred to be one of the declining Romans reclining on couches, eating grapes and fondling slave-girls, than one of those dour indestructible virtue-filled early ones fighting and force-marching all over the place... just keep your head down and hope Nero or Caligula doesn't look your way, keep shtumm when they adulterate the currency or the arbitrary arrests start... but there comes a point when the barbarians are at the gates, inside the gates, when it doesn't look too good and you start wishing you'd done a few more press-ups and a few less orgies.

And today I had too much time for brooding and suddenly found myself remembering the last time I was there and the horror Mohan laid in my lap. He was a fifteen-year-old schoolkid from some shitty estate in another town, helping me in the afternoons on some sort of work-experience thing. His first day he suddenly blurted, 'It's a drug town, where I come from,' and proceeded to relate the grisly details of a body that had been found, his neighbour, a drug-gang murder. I was nearly sick and you should have seen him. You should have seen his face. He was the gentlest kid ever and he was shit-scared just talking about that madness. You should have seen his eyes. Pleading. He wanted - what the hell did he want from me? Reassurance? I told him to get rich and get out of there - he seemed fairly sharp and had plans along those lines - but what about the people who can't? Who is going to help them? What are any of us are meant to do about things?

What can I do? I don't buy drugs. I don't vote for any of the current lot. But what can I do to help the poor bastard? Where is he now? Is he still there? If he's still there now he's probably in a gang himself for protection... I swear if I was in charge I would clean up those places with the fucking army... If any lawyer types complained I would transplant the villains to their damn neighbourhood.

Bleh, to hell with it. This is just ratchet-jaw. This isn't what you want from me. You want distraction and so do I. And the truth is I don't give a damn if the nation goes to the bow-wows so long as I can get my bloody book published first. So here instead are my decadent sex fantasies about ____ O'______, haughty bluestocking data-entry diva of the second floor:

____ O'______, haughty bluestocking data-entry diva of the second floor, comes in and starts busting my chops about the decline of the west. We both know that's only an excuse.

'Cheer up,' I say, 'I believe I have found a loophole in Spengler's theories which means our civilisation may not be doomed to decline as were others before it. He may be right that a culture reaches its zenith and starts to decay when its particular driving idea is fulfilled and made externally actual - but does he himself not say that for us in the Western or Faustian Culture our driving idea is a reaching for the infinite? If infinity is our goal, how can we ever reach it? How can such an Idea be fulfilled or made actual? If we can never attain a state of thing-become we can never petrify and decline. Admittedly this is based on a hasty reading of crib-notes for the shallow purpose of attempting to seduce a girl I fancied years ago who in the event went off with a barbarian anyway, and admittedly the thought of our society going on forever may at times be more disturbing than the notion that it is doomed to die, but does it not give you fresh hope for the future, and does it not strike you as clever enough in a superficial way to warrant a fuck on general principles?'

'It does,' she breathes, eyes widening as she removes her clothes.

'And besides,' I say, 'if you think the west is declining, get a load of this.' And I reveal my magnificent manhood... She is so startled by the sight of it she drops her magnifying glass... I take her energetically on the photocopier, which starts to smoke and flash and churn out paper everywhere and vibrate across the room. She gasps and admits there has never been a better time to be alive and a woman than right here and now and writhing under my mighty prong. Mrs. Prendergast comes in and says you never got such portions under rationing. And she joins in a bit and then brings me a cup of tea and a bun.

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