There is no horror quite like the moment when all is out of charge. When no desperate pressing of buttons will resurrect the blue-lights of phone or laptop. Bereaved of our electrical acquaintance, we resign ourselves to the funerary rites: “Silence the pianos, and with muffled drum, / Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.” Then, insult consorting injury, we are left alone. A solitary widow. In Café Nero.
Unceremoniously taken from us is the only thing that prevents us doing the unthinkable: thinking. Left to our own devices, wish we our devices hadn’t left. Because if, dear reader, you are anything like me, then your own thoughts are a mire of sludgy, moistening putrefactions in various states of decay. Half-thought stupidities meet barely-registered prurience, intersecting the almost-conscious bigotries and turning left just off the un-arsed apathies. Reliance on external stimuli, means our internal apparatus offers next to no sustenance or succour.
So what does one do, dismaying in a café over wi-fi that was, and is no longer? As we have already established beyond doubt, you are very like me. Therefore, you probably reach for a newspaper – sometimes sinking so low as to read the housing supplements left behind by a discerning reader. Or you could peruse the club-event listings. You might even, as I have, read the entirety of a misplaced, novel-sized leaflet about paying your zakat.
Sometimes though, no Islamic charity pamphlets to hand, you may be forced to listen to the sound of you, blathering endlessly on. It is in these moments that I’m most grateful for my younger, precocious and pretentious, self who devoted time to learning lines of poetry. I don’t know much; little bits of Auden, Yeats, Housman, and tiny pieces of Baudelaire, Wallace Stevens and some poets whose names I forget. But when alone, faced with the dingy digs of the subconscious, these ornaments offer a little light, here and there.
I defer to Auden, a poet who couldn’t manage a forgettable line, with a poem for being left alone:
Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.
How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.
Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.
Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.
Recollection and memory is the seat on which we plant the buttocks of our worlds. Without these tools, every experience is new, incomprehensible and baffling. Remembering verse offers some protection from the inchoate difficulties that spring from the everyday. Equally, when able to frame your (read: my) idle stupidity with the best that has been thought and said, beauty and all those damp unspeakables – love and its accompaniments – are dealt with in the hands of the experts, and not the incompetent self.