‘How was jolly old England?’ Camp asked me after I sat down, happily surveying the unchanging moving picture of the harbour, the comings and goings of boaters and people and the noisy gulls. It feels good to be home again and have a pint with Camp who looks a bit like Einstein in his dotage. I think he needs a haircut but I better not say anything because he prides himself not to give a hoot about his appearance. ‘Did you like London?’
‘Yes, I did. We walked for miles around the old city, along the Thames and past all the iconic buildings and landmarks. Lucky for us, we were there just days before the Queen died, so we still had unrestricted access to all the gigantic stone monstrosities: castles, cathedrals, bridges and towers. I was most impressed with the Modern Tate gallery which is in a huge old former power station.’
‘Did you go to Stonehenge?’
Talk about massive stone structures. The larger-than-life stone circles in Stonehenge and Avebury speak of an earlier obsession with grand monuments to celebrate some kind of extraterrestrial deity or belief system.’
‘History and religion preserved in stone,’ Camp said. ‘How much easier to just believe in ideologies based on theories of how best to control and subjugate the masses or to further liberate individuals within the confines of society.’
‘Sarcasm and monstruous religious edifices aside, the narrow country roads flanked by ancient stone walls and houses, literally inches from traffic and the countless roundabouts make for a nervy driving adventure and on the wrong side of the road.’
We both took a sip from our beers and looked out at a world that hasn’t really changed in thousands of years. Same islands, same water, same rocks and mountains. No monuments or cathedrals even though people have lived here for thousands of years.
‘We also went to see the Globe, a reconstruction of a theatre Shakespeare was part owner of. Did you ever consider that when the Bard wrote his plays, he never imagined that anybody would read them. First off, printing books in the 16th century was reserved for the bible. Secondly, nobody could read except the aristocrats and the clergy. Shakespeare, whose father was mayor of Stratford, learned to read and write at the local grammar school, but the only way to bring his own stories to life was through plays. Therefore, he was involved in building theatres and wrote stories to please the crowds. Think about today’s stories which are fleeting podcasts and wordy posts by pundits like myself with none of the gravitas and relevance of the Bard or a Dickens, both of whom wrote with quill and ink, not a laptop with a word-check.’
‘Yes, you’re right there,’ Camp said and added: ‘I can only shake my head in wonder at the extreme pressure they were under. First to produce, then to sell and please, then to write the next opus or again face existential hardship.’
‘Today we have the opposite problem. Since the advent of home computers and laptops, everybody is a writer and millions of people post millions of words all the time.’
‘But not many write stories that withstand the tests of time. Most word pictures – essays, novels, non-fiction and posts have a short shelf life and maybe a half-life in a virtual cloud or they are remaindered and pulped.’
When Vicky brought around a refresher I had to ask: ‘Vicky, do you read books, like novels and such?’
She gave me a look like I just fell to earth from outer space. ‘Who’s got time for reading novels? I work, pick up my son, try to get some exercise in, maybe meet some friends once in a blue moon and sleep when I can. Only old people read books. I’ve got my phone.’
‘Who are the old people?’ Camp asked.
‘Those over forty,’ she said with a wink in my direction.
As a late blooming writer myself, I feel that the need to express oneself in print is a form of intellectual masturbation in which, if I don’t perform it periodically, ideas will rot in my brain. Writing words is thus a form of release, enhancing one’s own mental health.