Friday, 3 August 2012

The Naked Assailant

The Naked Assailant

My great-grandfather was a most peculiar man. And by calling him peculiar I am aware that I am exposing myself to the perfectly reasonable assumption that I, too, might be peculiar; this concerns me, as my great-grandfather's peculiarity was of an unpleasant and bizarre nature.
Now, I believe that everyone has the strength to control the beasts that dwell within them. However, fate and circumstance can invade our lives to create pressure, and, as we know, under pressure sometimes the best in us is revealed......
.......and sometimes the worst.
At this stage you must have a good idea of where I am going with this from the subliminal hints by my use of four simple words: peculiar, exposing, naked and pressure. So let's cut to the chase.
My great-grandfather was a high-ranking government official in a small town. He had immense power and authority, and had cultivated an appropriate image of great respectability and impeccable morality. Remember, we are talking about quite some years ago. Nowadays people in similar positions in public life routinely behave very badly and get away with it---indeed, often their outrageous behaviour is applauded. They can attract thousands of followers on Facebook and Twitter. Such are the times we live in! But not then, not in the time of my great-grandfather. It is important to bear this in mind.
For my great-grandfather had a terrible secret. And the funny thing was that many people knew about it. Nowadays such a secret could get splashed across the tabloid newspapers. But not then, not in those times. Not in that small town. It was just too darn risky.
People were upright and moral, and they didn't take kindly to having their idols smashed to the ground to discover that they had feet of clay!
The problem was this; every evening my great-grandfather would set out on his after-dinner walk. Except that he wouldn't go far. Just outside the imposing, wrought iron gates to his driveway was a leafy tree. He would take off every single stitch of clothing, smear his naked body with ashes, arm himself with a stout bamboo cane, and climb to the top of the tree.
 And there he would wait.
Most people passing by underneath the tree would carry on past unmolested, unaware of the eyes watching intently from above. Now and then, however, along would come someone whom my great-grandfather did not like the look of at all.
So he would shimmy down the tree and, bamboo-cane in hand, waylay the hapless passer-by and deliver a few good whacks to the unfortunate guy. And a particularly objectionable-looking person would receive nothing less that a damn good thrashing.
It is difficult to fight back against an armed man, for even a bamboo cane can be a formidable weapon. But it was not this that prevented the bruised and battered wayfarer from fighting back or complaining to the police. Rather it was the fact that they managed to recognise my great-grandfather. Yes, even in his birthday suit and ash-grey as a London sky, the honourable deputy collector could not be mistaken for anyone else. The good looks, the gravitas, the high-browed intellectual's profile were all abundantly well known. Sooner or later everyone needed the help of this powerful man.....and, well....and so he got away with it!
No one dared speak. No one even dared spread the word around to stop the innocent from using that particular road where, if your face didn't fit, you were made aware of it in no uncertain terms. A few bruises and lacerations were no big deal when compared to the negative fall-out attending any accusations against such an august personage. Such was the awe and respect in which people like my great-grandfather were held in those days.
So why did he do it? Was he mad? Far from it, my family maintains. He was not insane. So why?
Many years after he was dead and buried everyone was finally agreed. It all came down to one word.
This was his way of unwinding. At work there were high expectations of him, and at home it was no different. He had 14 spoilt and squabbling kids and a wife more or less pregnant the whole time. Different people have different ways of dealing with stress. For some it is involving themselves in a favourite hobby. Others have music, art and sport as diversions to provide release from the inter-cranial pressure of a demanding life. And, if nothing works, we can always try a different line of work if we are sensible about it. My great-grandfather, however, had no such choice.
Too many people depended upon him. Relied on his advice and direction. He could not let them down. Circumstances had painted him into a corner. No one cared about the pressure-cooker that was bubbling away inside his head. Nowadays we know much more about stress. How to recognise the symptoms. How it is caused, how to deal with it, yes, we know all that. For stress is surely a sickness but,---and this is a big 'but',---it is a self-inflicted sickness. We needn't put ourselves under such pressure. There is plenty of alternative employment around---admittedly often with less money, but with more long term happiness in prospect. Fewer broken families, more time for the kids, leisure to enjoy ourselves and appreciate the true joys of being alive.
And, as for those of us who want more from our careers, fair enough, if that is what turns us on so be it. But even this can and should be negotiated with our employers to enable us to have more time off to enjoy life. There really is no excuse, you know. Because in the end the root cause of our apathy....the main obstacle to a better life and the reason for this neglect of our souls comes down to one word.

Hi, my name is John. This is my fourth weekly blogpost. The previous posts can be reached by scrolling down. The next one, called 'Yes, I'm Leaving You.....', will be posted on Friday 10 August. I look forward to your comments. By the way, as I write, the ducklings are just growing and growing! There are actually 9 of them, and they follow me around like puppies! (I miscounted last time and thought there were 8). For those of you who are late to this blog, don't worry, you can scroll down and see the post called Tragedy At The Duck Pond to appreciate the background to the duckling saga (Thursday 19 July post).
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