Tuesday, January 13, 2009

This God-Forsaken Space

Photo from www.news.cnet.com

In Australia they named a swimming pool after a Prime Minister who drowned, yet any attempt to lampoon this idiocy is met with a face wetter than the no doubt current state of the never-seen-again former statesman. Australians don’t get irony which is a shame because locating it in the tedium of existence can be the most fun you’ll pull from a day and might even keep you going into the night with a prevailing winsomeness and enough accompanying Sauvignon Blanc. They named a Greenpeace boat after Steve Irwin too, although I can’t help thinking a submarine would have been more appropriate.

No doubt somewhere in Texas there’s a Buddy Holly Airport and a John F Kennedy Rifle Range. Americans don’t get irony either. The English name their airports after words you’ve never heard before or since in any other context (Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted). You can’t be too careful where planes are concerned as they can fall out of the sky with rather spectacular consequences. And they never name swimming pools after actual people either. Since most English people can’t swim, such a temptation to fate would be unthinkable and most likely in breach of several Health and Safety regulations. Even irony requires a certain amount of risk management – it ceases to be fun when someone loses an eye.

A life devoid of irony is indeed drab. I don’t watch television, even though that would constitute a fine ironic act in itself. I just found I got unnerved by the thing screaming at me every few minutes to buy new tyres and that demolished any gentle sense of the absurd I might have gained from the incalculable awfulness of it. Some mirth can be drawn from the unintentional humour of Australian newspapers, especially the pathetically flimsy attempts to disguise prejudice or appear clever which are generally very funny for all the wrong reasons, like Tom Cruise or Nicholas Sarkozy. I have been especially amused this week by the Australian media’s abysmal failure to extract even one chuckle from The British Humanist Association’s London campaign which gleefully informs us via eight hundred of the city's finest big red buses,

There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.

I could weep. Seriously guys, this is a gift. Maybe you need to know Britain to truly appreciate just how many different levels of hilarity are operating here. Perhaps you need to be aware of just how much joy Britons derive from compounding misery with hopelessness and how eerily empowered that state renders them. It can be quite creepy if you’re not used to it but after a while you can gauge your own mettle by it. Could the timing have been any more opportune for this weird communal alchemy – the coldest winter in decades, the economic apocalypse? It just knocks the spots off naming a swimming pool after a drowned PM.

The British are a great betting nation as evidenced by the number of high street banks that got turned into betting shops – not that there’s a huge difference these days anyway. On the face of it, it looks like the Humanists have bottled and taken the Pascalian each-way option with that ‘probably’ or maybe there was some advertising standards rule to be dodged – like when Carlsberg could only claim to be ‘probably the best lager in the world’. This probable non-god certainly moves in mysterious ways. London buses are of course, one of the world’s great historic advertising venues. Before radio and television ads, there were big red buses advising you to drink Horlicks and have your hat re-blocked. If you want Londoners to take notice, you put it on a bus. It’s undeniably one in the evangelical eye for the insidious convoy of revivalist church buses kicking around the city that tease you with ‘God Loves You’. And all you can think is, ‘oh yeah? Then why doesn’t he fucking call?’

By chance, I have just finished reading Christopher Hitchens’s God is NOT Great – How religion poisons everything. The title is something of a misnomer in that a non-existent entity can hardly have qualities so its perceived possession or lack of ‘greatness’ you would have thought would be immaterial. I guess it’s Christopher’s little joke. The book is amusing enough and does deal very thoroughly with the absurdity of intelligent people having to focus themselves on proving the non-existence of various deities. Obviously this is very tough to do and must be extremely frustrating to engage in if you’d rather be translating Proust into Sanskrit. I can only guess at the difficulty of attempting to calculate the probability of the non-existence of God. The Humanists clearly have their priorities in order – sod the maths, pop down to London Transport to book some Routemaster time and then retire to the Slug and Lettuce until closing time. Amen to that.

Furthermore, I would give almost anything to have been standing in Charing Cross Road with my toes a distant memory when a full Number 19 wearing the Humanists' philosophical gem flashed by without even looking like it was going to stop and throwing up some filthy black ice onto my new camel suede boots into the bargain. The irony would NOT have been lost on me, I can assure you. And it would certainly have been more effective than some rancid old slob with ketchup stains all over his Parka extolling me to ‘cheer up darlin’, it might never ‘appen’, as I was valiantly attempting to visualise a warm place. (Why is it that never works?) Hey, honk if you love Brian sinner! Blighty – you have outdone your cranky old self. Mon dieu I miss tu quelque temps…