PC 180 Individual Fear

To bring an old metaphorical story up to date ……..

Sitting around the bar-café table was part of their morning routine, these retired chaps who simply wanted to chew the fat, gossip and share their thoughts and news. Most days they played cards, having ordered their own personal coffee preferences, espresso, Americano, Latte, Cappuccino or indeed on a weekend a little glass of beer. They sit in the shade, smiling at the world around them.

PC 180 1

One morning Jim was being unusually quiet.

“What’s wrong Jim?” asks George, a retired plumber, “you look very troubled.”

Indeed Jim, looking as though he had the weight of the world on his shoulders, announces that he had had a really strange dream, actually a bit of a nightmare; that gets their attention:

“Somewhere outside of the city I came across, how would I describe it? ……. I don’t know, a sense, something I couldn’t touch, couldn’t see but I felt an emotion that whispered through the trees like a spirit; it felt evil and strange but there was no sense of smell. The earth shook …… trembled …. as if someone or something was stomping around. As I watched I saw people being embraced by this invisible vapour and running home. Everything was very black and white.

“How come it didn’t get you Jim?” asks Andres with a slight smirk on his face.

“I guess it didn’t like the smoke of my old pipe tobacco and kept away!!”

“Sensible spirit” says Andres, laughing at the same time as waving Jim’s smoke from his face. The conversation then relapses into the normal exchange of stories, reminiscences and how one of them had missed that hole-in-one on the golf course.

PC 180 2

But as the day passes the wind increases in strength, the forecasters warn of torrential rain and the town council announces that everyone should go home …… and stay there. Schools close early, restaurants shut. A horrendous storm broke over the town, trees were blown over and roads blocked; an elderly woman suffered a heart attack. The barman at the café had overheard Jim talking about his nightmare and mentioned it to the baker who delivered the loaves for the lunchtime sandwiches. He repeated it back at the bakery and very soon rumour control took it, enlarged it and it became a stated fact, that out in the fields there was something very evil. Jim’s family had worked the land for generations, knew all about the local folklore, and this only added to the credibility of the story. Fear took over and no one applied the ‘common sense’ filter. What he had seen in his dream somewhere beyond the bounds of the city was now a real terrifying spirit, a bogey man, a ghostly spectre.

There was a sort of self- imposed lockdown. Those who could packed their storerooms with quantities of stuff they thought they might need; those who couldn’t relied on friends and neighbours to buy basics for them.

A week later the gentlemen met to play Knock-out Whist. Their faces showed the strain of living with their wives for a whole week, as they had obeyed the general diktat and not gone out – except for essential supplies and exercise – and a game of cards was exercise for arthritic fingers! As they were moaning about how some things were no longer available in the shops, Angelo sidles up to the table.

“Psst! Want some flour?” asks Angelo, always wanting to make a fast buck.

“Piss off Angelo!” says George

“No flour? How about some loo paper, I can sell it to you for a big discount.”

Shortages had indeed begun to appear; loo paper had become a real sought-after item despite the population not developing any additional arsehole …..

“…….. although there are many arseholes by way of behaviour in the council!” jokes George. The old boys around the café table thought the politicians nincompoops who thought themselves quite intellectual but lacked an ounce of common sense. All they seemed to do was talk and mumble and give eloquent speeches which when analysed amounted to nothing of substance and the people suffered.

“Half of them don’t know their arseholes from their elbows” laughs Jim. “Did you see on the news that leader, the one with the blonde bouffant hair, wiping his elbow with loo paper?”

They all creased up at the absurdity ……. “You couldn’t make it up!” cries Matthew.

What people read about on the various social media platforms formed opinion; no one was sure whether the stories were true or fake or simply the origin of some mindless troll sitting in his back bedroom with a completely distorted view of his fellow human beings. They learned that other cities were suffering in the same inexplicable way and were arguing amongst themselves what to do, as well as looking for someone to blame, because there’s always someone to blame.

PC 180 3

After two months, during which the winds outside the city lashed the fields and brought down woods as if by some unseen giant hand, the population got restless. The unseen, invisible bogeyman that was causing so much havoc began to take on huge proportions and fear began to run through people’s minds ….. re-inforced by those who always saw the negatives.

One morning Jim suggested he go and see what was really out there ……. if anything! Andres, George and Matthew thought this was a grand idea although conspicuously not volunteering to accompany him!

So Jim started on the road out of the city, wrapped up against the driving rain and whipping wind, towards the forests; some townspeople criticised him for exercising too far from the town, but he was deaf to their pleas. But as he left the sanctuary of the city he immediately realised the wind was easing; 30 minutes later nearing the large five-barred gate into an area of broken tree-stumps the wind was barely rustling the bushes; a few steps further and it was so soft as to be a vague hint of down on his cheek. He bent down to pick up a single blade of grass and looking at it, noticed an extremely small man clinging to the stem.

“What’s your name?” asked Jim.

“Fear” mumbled the little figure, still in the palm of his hand.

‘Well, I don’t need you’, thinks Jim as he squeezes the stem between his thumb and forefinger, like snuffing out the flame of the candle.  He wondered why it had been so violent only moments before and then realised he had simply confronted his fear and that of his fellow citizens

“The end of Lockdown Phase One” cry the citizens as Jim returns.

 

Richard 14th May 2020

PS Back in the 1970s in Germany one year there was a fearful storm that swept through north of Hamburg. I was on an artillery live firing exercise on the ranges of Bergen-Hohne. The exercise was halted as the wind speeds increased to hurricane-force gusts. Driving back to our training base later it did look as though a giant’s fingers had simple swept forward and back through the pine forests, most of which now lay flat and broken.

PPS You will remember that line from “When Shepherds Watched Their Flocks” …… “Fear Not, for mighty dread had seized their troubled minds.”

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