Camera obscura

scotland trip jan 15 339

“What on earth brought that on?” He sat up straight, watching me with what I can only call horror. It had been a long morning, with an early start to clean and refill the hot tub for him… all that freezing cold water in winter weather. It had still been dark when I arrived and his blinds closed. I left him to sleep and dragged the hose and brush into the back garden and got stuck in.

By the time he was fed, organised and indulging in a final coffee in his bedroom some hours later, I was tired, cold and aching. I flopped on my back across the foot of the bed and closed my eyes, fingers linked across my chest to thaw the blue extremities. I suppose that was what did it.

“Well, I just wondered how they do it.”
“But why?”
“Writer’s mind, I suppose.”
“I’m bloody glad I don’t have one then!”

It must have been the position I was in. It reminded me of my late partner when he had passed on and the gentle laughter as we tried to keep his chin in place when he was laid out. Having relaxed my face and tried several angles as I lay there, it was clear that a chin would need support. I verbally explored the options, finally musing that I could have asked my father… My son suggested I ask him anyway as he’d probably know, being dead… He also suggested the conversation was getting a little morbid when I wondered aloud how long it would be before I was dead too.

I disagree, it isn’t morbid to be curious. It isn’t as if I’m in any hurry! But we only shy away from the subject of death because it is a mystery and the blank page of ‘afterwards’ can seem a fearful place to the personality. When there is no fear, curiosity is natural.

The internet would doubtless hold the answer…and probably more than I cared to ask. Not, I hope, to my own eventual demise, but to the original subject of my musing. I could always ask Google later… adding yet more strangeness to my browsing history. I wondered briefly about governmental watch lists, said to crawl through our online actions for suspect queries. Knowing some of the things I’ve researched over the years… and I’m not even a crime writer… you would imagine that alarm bells had rung somewhere.

What do ‘they’ do when such trawling is flagged up? Is there a process for checking people out, or is it automated? Do they have an algorithm that automatically sends such queries linked to writers’ browsers to a ‘literary lunatic’ file to gather dust? And just how much are we, as individuals in our society, watched from behind the scenes, in ways that most of us will never know about?

Every so often a new technology comes in that brings a brief, vituperative outcry of ‘invasion of privacy’. Mine is often one of the voices quietly raised. We are numbered, filed and logged on road and surveillance cameras all the time. With the internet and mobile networks, even our location and private leisure activities can be monitored, either covertly or through what we choose to share with the world. Meanwhile much of what we are ‘fed’ by the media is dumbed down to a level consummate with reaching the lowest common denominator and, while we all now have access to incredible amounts of knowledge, there seems little encouragement to think for ourselves. I’ve read a few books that use similar Orwellian scenarios as their starting point…

I don’t hold with the vast majority of conspiracy theories, but behind even the wildest of them remains the simple and irrefutable fact that the gift of life and the mystery of death continue unimpeded by Man. There are some things we will never know. We may create the conditions in which life may begin, yet we do not know what life itself is. We may know every process associated with the demise and disposal of the body, but we do not know what death is either, except that it is, as one mortician put it, when “the spark that made them who they are is no longer there.”

I knew what he meant. When my son was in the coma, kept alive by machines and just this side of death, there had been a time when an indefinable ‘quietness’ had fallen over him, as if that ‘spark’ had withdrawn and ‘he’ was no longer there. You cannot physically tell the difference when machines keep immobile flesh breathing, but there is ‘something’, a vital presence, and its absence is palpable to senses other than the eyes. Perhaps that ‘spark’ guides our days and watches us with a more intimate surveillance than any camera.

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