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Long Way Home

Song at the start of a century

Now that the calendar has granted us an opportunity for celebration
(which is several years late according to the best estimates
and carries all the significance of a car’s odometer clicking over to a particular string of zeroes),
let us embrace the accident of convenient numbers and sing at the start of a century! 

My song has a target audience.
It is for not the family which smilingly eats the latest breakfast cereal together
and for whom the choice of a new brand of dishwasher powder is a significant and life-enhancing decision,
for I say unto you, they have their reward. 

Just when you thought no soap powder could wash any whiter,
when your woollens have so much bounce you have to strap them down in the chest of drawers,
around the lid of your shaving foam its says Good Morning to you in four different languages

And it is not for the young man driving a fast car with an open roof
whose companion’s long hair will later be rinsed clean of atmospheric pollution by a widely-advertised type of conditioning shampoo,
for I say unto you, they have their reward. 

Just when your dog's favourite food is the first choice of eleven out of ten breeders,
when you thought no biscuit could give you another crumb of comfort,
then we bring you one more flavour to savour,
turning towards the camera, our smiles, like our snacks, now even cheesier

It is for the small and ordinary and bewildered.
It is the voice of one crying in a maisonette:

Where are you, Katie of the Oxo ads,
shaking your head indulgently at Philip,
whose pains could all be cured by Anadin?
Our souls cry out for you!

The blueprint of the last century was drawn in the one before
Darwin selected it from disconnected bones,
Babbage computed its parameters,
Daguerre snapped its image on his photographic plate,
Bell rang it up demanding Come here I need you,
Freud placed it on his couch and checked its bank balance.
As an infant, Wilbur and Orville flew it in the rain at Kitty Hawk

So many of the children died young.
Only the lucky survive
little Josef, little Adolf, little Vladimir Ilyich.
Benito is a darling, but so bossy!
He'll be a leader one day, you'll see!
 

It was shaped by those who dreamed of a new order
and by those who saw that such a thing must be opposed,
who guessed that a change of heart was easier in a medical than a spiritual operation,
that we could split matter in two leaving the mess all over the Pacific,
and that finally we would sit at our private screens,
staring at our most intimate reflections, secure at last in the anonymity of total revelation. 

We worship daily at the shrine of our one-eyed household god.
We pray by phone or postcard, though seldom get an answer.
The chosen ones win holidays or seats at football matches.
It is encouraging how readily our children have taken to this religion.

Of course we ration what the children watch—
No sex or violence or mindless rubbish
only positive stuff like nature programmes,
where animals mate and kill and eat each other up. 

Have your credit card ready and call toll free!
Now back to New York and here's Matt!
Missing you already!
 

And all new knowledge breaks existing laws,
and later everyone will say they knew it all the time.

Confucius he say
the superior man understands what is right,
the inferior man understands what will sell.

The Iron Curtain has been torn down and replaced with one bought from Ikea,
where at least former communists will find the length of queues reassuring,
and everyone is famous now for less than fifteen minutes. 

Phil Spector he say
Da doo ron ron ron,
da doo ron ron.

The European Community has been lost in translation,
standing in line at Brussels airport as taxis stream past the hoardings of its endless construction.
A Dane remonstrates with a Spanish colleague about the actions of the Nomination Committee
while the cold wind jumps the long queue and combs out his thinning hair.  

Joni Mitchell she say
its just a borderline,
another borderline.

America eats a glazed donut in Penn Station,
waits for a taxi outside Madison Square Gardens,
is taken by a turban’d driver across Brooklyn Bridge,
beneath which Walt Whitman’s ghost rides the ferry, his crocodile eyes twinkling. 

In the land of the free, community is defined by byelaws;
we take an interest in you only if you do not have the necessary paperwork,
or if you will help us stop people doing something,
otherwise in every possible respect you are on your own.

And every screw-up is a commercial opportunity,
and every bankruptcy an incentive.
The great high priest of the market will give you absolution,
and every bagel vendor will have his IPO. 

All you need is money.
All you need is money.
All you need is money.
All you need is money.

The average income of the world’s poorest fifty countries is a dollar a day;
entire nations inhabit the tiny margins of currency fluctuations,
breathing in shallow fractions of a euro, dollar or yen. 

Forgive us our debts,
as we forgive those
who forgive our debts.

No-one is minding the store.
Not those who sit in panelled board-rooms, or give instructions to their overworked assistants.
The brightest minds are forming global strategies for marketing stupid but winsome cuddly toys.
The economies of whole continents survive on the things that destroy them,
tobacco, alcohol, cocaine and tourists hoovering up culture;
this is progress and the world into which we joyfully bring our slippery and wrinkled newborn babies,
and do so at a rate which is mathematically unsupportable. 

Remember, one thousand million Chinese can be terribly wrong.

In 99 years a hundred metres will be run in eight seconds by a woman.
In 99 years a computer the size of a matchbox will manage Europe.
In 99 years we will take our holidays on the Norwegian Riviera while our holograms keep our appointments at virtual business meetings.
In 99 years we will choose the colours of our childrens’ eyes and be afraid to look into them. 

The unthinkable becomes thinkable.
The thinkable becomes see-able.
The see-able becomes do-able.
The do-able becomes done.
The done becomes the done thing.

The West’s strategy is to pull the covers over its head and call for momma,
and momma comes bringing baseball caps and a hundred kinds of beer.
Entertainment is anaesthetic so we feel no pain
but run on like an athlete with cortisone injected into each of his rupturing joints. 

Church Father Julian he say
The world is at its last gasp
(though to be fair he said this 16 centuries ago).

Those who control people become almost undetectable.
Networks mate and reproduce and the air chokes with data.

Paul Simon he say
These are the days of miracles and wonder
and don't cry, baby, don't cry.

The baby lives because of a medical breakthrough
for the lack of the price of which in another country a hundred children daily drink a deadly water cocktail,
and the transplant patient’s doctor calls with good news:
someone has died, young and healthy in a road accident! 

History in the real world is the history of women bearing sorrow.
It is passed down in the pain of childbirth from mothers' mothers' mothers.
The child's body nurtured for two decades then let go,
to be exploded in a moment or sent home broken beyond repair.

That was the first century that has been reviewed in real time,
and this will be the first to be replayed in real time.
We rebuild the images of our virtual past until we cannot tell it from the actual,
and everything will be connected to everything else from an infinite number of points of view. 

The Julian of Norwich chat room say
All shall be cool, 
And all manner of thing shall be cool.

We have unlocked the secrets of the births of suns,
and plumbed the immensity of space,
but is it greater than the distances travelled across the cold expanse between the still-forming stars of the mind’s nebulae?
In these days of limitless technology the artist still sketches the bird,
and the camera films the artist sketching,
and we look through the camera at the artist sketching the bird
and we sense the disproportion but do not laugh. 

Rihaku he say
what is the use of talking,
there is no end of talking
there is no end of things in the heart.

And a place is just a co-ordinate on a map until it is understood with sorrow:
Aberfan Belsen Chernobyl Dunblane Enniskillen Galipoli Hiroshima Jonestown Kosovo Lockerbie MyLai Nagasaki Omagh Passchendaele Stalingrad Vukovar Waco—
the alphabet is almost complete. 

Christ the universal son looks on from the scaffold of his terrible creation,
while the women bear the pain of the God who dies of these injustices,
and ambition rattles like dice at the foot of the cross.

And time is the greatest trick of all.
We think that to name it is to know it and that to measure it is to master it, and we are deceived.
It is the unwelcome companion that wakes us each morning to try out its latest product,
and remains at our heels until we lie down each night exhausted by its constant opportunities.
We mark its passing with rockets that flare and glitter amazingly and then are utterly gone. 

Michael Leunig he say
Nothing can be loved at speed.

The train from Washington DC runs through places with long names and short histories,
past the trees in Maryland in late October
with leaves of every possible shade of yellow, gold, red, orange and vermilion,
which were there the day the motorcade passed by the grassy knoll,
and on the day when the smoke cleared at Gettysburg,
and on the day Santa Maria slipped out of the harbor at Cadiz
on a damn fool’s errand searching for a damn fool’s dream of gold. 

Bono he say
Love is a comprehensive technology.

A gust of wind brings a storm of leaves onto the garden
and the trees in the park are stripped beneath an ice-blue sky.
We know the seasons of our life behave no differently, though we clutch at immortality:
our spring comes in our children, theirs in theirs. 

Deliver us from evil.

And the distance between two people is the space where love flourishes or dies according to what fills it,
and the price of love is unbearable,
and the world you have shown us is an illusion but it is all that we have, 

for thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.
Amen.


The section "The unthinkable becomes thinkable..." is quoted from an unknown source.