Last week was torrid and deranging, news-wise. There has been a lot going on, a lot to absorb, and taking it in involves grappling once again with people’s fathomless capacity to be absolutely disgusting and terrible. Every day this week, I have read something that makes me want to take my laptop and just throw it far, far out the window. Every day, I have heard something on the radio that makes me want to pull over to the side of the road and wrench my radio out with my bare hands and then run it over several times. The best lack all conviction, while the worst are constantly quoting “The Second Coming” even though it has absolutely no relevance whatsoever to the subject at hand. I will not burden you with the details, because either you are sufficiently burdened by them already, or you have enough shit going on where you are.
What passes for a Feelgood Story at this present time is also bad. The Feelgood Story is either so good that it makes you feel guilty and wilfully blind, or so good that it simply throws the general badness of things into sharp relief. Perhaps these two are the same thing.
It feels like there used to be a third type of story, balanced somewhere between “shrill, hysterical escapism” and “unbelievably dire.” Just: a story. One that doesn’t set out with the intention of lifting your spirits far above what they are currently acclimatised to, but one that also doesn’t make you want to take the newspaper and tear it up into teeny tiny little pieces. Just: some information that is pretty interesting, maybe. Not too interesting. A simple, stand-alone story, one that you will be able to absorb even in your denuded state.
It’s lucky for me that I have such a story. Three related stories, in fact. They all involve Van Morrison, and they were all told to me by my friend S., who grew up in Belfast. Maybe you don’t care about Van Morrison. That’s fine, and you can stop reading. In the event that you have positive or even neutral feelings re Van Morrison, I pass these stories on to you, in the hope that you find them as useful and relaxing as I do.
Story 1: Some years ago, my friend S.’s dad was riding his bike in the park. I do not know what park, and I have never been to Belfast, but I feel confident sketching in a few descriptive details: very green, bike paths meandering beneath tall, dripping oaks, people in coats smoking cigarettes. During his bike ride, my friend’s dad nearly knocked into someone (the exact phrasing was “nearly clipped someone with his bike.”) That someone was of course Van Morrison. He was standing there in harm’s way because he had paused on his walk in order to take photos of some beautiful trees. He was taking the photos with his giant iPad, tilting it carefully in order to capture the majesty of what were apparently some truly stunning trees.
Story 2, directly from S.: “I can tell you with clarity that Van Morrison ordered a tuna toastie and a glass of chilled apple juice today at the local coffee shop as he celebrated the 50th anniversary of Astral Weeks.” (This one might make you think too much about the passage of time, but I just like the whole vibe of it.)
Story 3: S.’s dad and his bike in the park again, riding past Van Morrison while he was FaceTiming his friends in the park. He didn’t have any headphones on, so the whole park could hear what he and his friends (they sounded American) were saying.
That’s it. Those are the stories for you. Not too exciting. Not demanding of any sort of follow-up. Not making you feel any specific sort of a way except “basically fine.” If you or anyone you know has more stories like this, I would be delighted to hear them.