Thursday, November 20, 2008
Staring into the Abyss
Rabbi Simon the Righteous said the world stands on three pillars - God's law, worship, and the bestowal of kindness (Mishnah, Ethics of the Fathers I.ii).
Schelling thought our world stood on a fragile crust, below which boiled natural chaos (Naturphilosophie).
Lovecraft saw the world as a brittle veil, barely concealing squamous she-goats from uncounted stars (The Whisperer in Darkness).
In the fire sale of ideas you take your pick. I, however, know that the world rides on an army of drunks.
This web blog has already spoken up for the rights of drunk blokes, but it is now time to explain how much we all owe to shambling men in porous trousers.
I once worked in an office in Ukraine, Europe's bulwalk against Muscovite beastliness. One morning our office manager came up to me with a key and a fistful of grubby banknotes. "Boyo," he said. "I have to go out. Sometime this morning a drunk bloke will turn up with a sack of sugar. Give him the key, then give him the money."
I nodded gravely and assumed the lad had an appointment at the psychiatric clinic again. But sure enough there came a knock at the door. As I opened it an unshaven man wearing what look and smelled like a dog mattress barged past me. I followed him into the kitchen where he deposited a sack of sugar on the floor in front of a locked cupboard.
"Ffycin key whore innit," he muttered with outstretched paw. I gave him the key and he opened a Fingal's Cave of pots, bags and condiments. In went the sugar. He took the money, spat on it, fixed me with a milky eye and said "Ffycin off bitch 'til next month whore". And with that my knight was gone.
Our office manager later explained that all our kitchen, stationery, bathroom and running maintenance needs were met not by the various shiny new service companies that speckled the grey streets of Darnytsya, but rather by a network of drunken Touretteers in filthy vans.
"All Ukraine, indeed all the former Soviet states, depends on these derelicts," he went on. "No one outside government and foreign law firms can afford to pay taxes or proper wages. This is how we get things done."
The more I looked around that mighty land, the more I realised he was right. Every towering symbol of Ukrainian statehood was propped up against a lush in piss-strained brown trousers trying to roll a cigarette out of tree bark.
Of course, the drunks do not actually run the country, unlike its neighbour Belarus. That is left to thumping great crooks, demagogues and seedy financiers like everywhere else. Except when the crooks etc head off for a break in that hotel just down the beach from yours, and hand over the keys to arms dumps, missiles, gas pipelines, coal mines, more missiles, the gas mains, yet more missiles, jet fighters, nuclear power plants and Eurovision to the winos.
The results are always unfortunate, and teach us that drunks are useful but need strict supervision, especially during the summer months. The general term in Russian for a soused plebian is пьяный мужик (p'yany moujik), but in the House of Boyo we prefer the term Gosha.
Gosha is the improbable love interest in the evergreen Soviet film Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears, which won the USSR State Prize for Least Ponderous Title of the Year in 1981. Gosha is sanitised in true Soviet fashion, as a real moujik can barely utter two words in succession without snarls of "whore", "bitch", "ladygarden" and various imaginatively-conjugated invitations to copulate.
Nonetheless, his slovenly attire, manual trade, essential decency, consumption of dried fish and ready recourse to grain alcohol make him the acme of the worthy drunks upon whose self-tattooed shoulders the whole Slavonic world rests.
Whenever the power goes out in Madame Boyo's Carpathian redout, she doesn't call the electricity board but rather sends one of her urchins over to Kolya Lektryk with a half-bottle of monkey juice. Kolya soons returns with his bag of wires, Wehrmacht-issue pliers and diving helmet, eager to plug the missus back into the mains in return for the other half of the bottle and some bones.
Goshas also underpin/mine our own economy, as a visit to Humphries Tyres & Exhausts, Caversham, will confirm. The phenomenon of Goshery (Russ: Гошность) has spread into the other castes and classes of meritocratic Britain as well. Our financial system has collapsed because the grown-ups at the Bank of England and HM Treasury did not notice that City traders are sweaty little soaks in Aquascutum suits.
Academia and the world of business are also a den of Goshas. I used to work at a consultancy group and regularly commissioned studies of this sector or that on behalf of major corporations. Nynex, Morgan Guaranty and Levi Strauss were naturally delighted that the high tables and snuff boxes of Oxford were abuzz with how to penetrate the Polish telecoms and Egyptian cotton markets at their request.
In reality the work was done by a 20-year-old postgraduate from Sheffield in a Bollocks To The Poll Tax! t-shirt whom I'd found arm-wrestling for coppers down Cowley Working Men's Club.
Lovecraft was right when he wrote that "We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity; and it was not meant that we should voyage far" (The Call of Cthulhu). Do we really want to know that car and computer repairs are carried out by bandaged men armed with sticks, agony aunt and marital guidance columns were once written by my Dad and his Army mates for beer money, and leading broadcasters employ people like me?
Lovecraft went on to say that we would "either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age". In this he was wrong. That dark age is already here. Cheers.