Here we go again.
This weekend started early, before I was even ready, perhaps. I wake in Bristol’s second finest Travelodge and reluctantly begin the fight with my hangover.
As ever, it was a good night, yet still never worth this price. Not that I have time for retrospective considerations such as these, the city beckons and I must respond. By early afternoon my head has begun to clear and I can enjoy the trip a little more. Friday marks the start of the Royal Geographical Society’s Explore seminar and my current companion, Ben, has been drafted in to keep a watchful eye over Dave Cornthwaite’s ‘Say Yes More’ stand.
I, on the other hand, will be free to attend workshops and lectures galore. I will sit quietly and absorb all that I find pertinent, make notes and network whilst desperately hoping no-one attempts to talk to me about themselves or, worse still, about me. For I am an impostor, neither an adventurer or explorer, as the terms are understood within the hallowed halls at Number One Kensington Gore.
We arrive in the early evening and haul box after box of merchandising across slick lanes of impatient, noisy traffic. Yards down the road a red carpet has been drawn out in front of the the Royal Albert Hall for the variety performance and a small but eager crowd has gathered.
Once unpacked we catch the tail end of a lecture before deciding to head into Kensington for dinner. We walk and talk in the light drizzle, making it a good distance past the tube station before deciding to return, predictably, to the first place we considered; a small gastro-pub, The Goat’s Something-or-other.
The steak is cooked well but best described as diminutive and the onion rings are an abomination with all the texture of battered calamari and none of the taste. A television is showing a football match, inaudible over the general hubbub, I watch absently as the feed cuts out and is replaced by a stony-faced news anchor.
It is just shy of ten o’clock and within the last thirty minutes news has begun to come in of a series of attacks in Paris, beginning with an explosion at the gates of the Stade de France and progressing through the city before ending in a massacre at a rock concert.
As the locked-down streets of Paris fill the screen the resemblance to those of London, visible just beyond the television, is disquieting. This is going to be, for a good number of British people at least, uncomfortably close to home.
With that comes not only the predictable media scare-mongering clusterfuck but also the ill-formed opinions of anyone with an audience or the ability to spastically wring their words from a computer, tablet or smartphone.
In reaction I attempt to perform some internal safeguarding from the barrage of nonsense about to pour forth from any number of people I on a daily basis tolerate and in some cases even appreciate.
Enter stage, far right, the xenophobes and muslim-bashers, resplendent in Doc Martens and Saint George vests. From the left comes well-meant but ham-fisted quotes about how all muslims aren’t card-carrying, militant extremists who will detonate their semtex underwear as soon as they would oppress your freedom.
Perhaps worse still is the bandwagon, screeching into view, filled far past capacity and fit to tip. Tricolour decals and more fucking flags than a Parisian souvenir stall on Bastille Day.
Solidarity, compassion, support. All are fantastic, humanistic things to spout but ultimately who is the recipient? Why not actually contact your French acquaintances and offer some bonafide, real emotion.
Posting messages of support aimlessly to your non-French friends, who are, unfortunately, by and large doing the exact same thing is to my mind the equivalent of standing in the hall of mirrors talking to yourself.
The important difference being, in my scenario you would at least be able to comprehend the absurdity of your actions.
The saddest part is that in thier desperation to demonstrate some compassion these small gestures will ultimately also be the sum of thier efforts. Perhaps
I missed all the profile pictures after Ankara, the earnest messages to Baghdad and prayers for Maiduguri but somehow I doubt it.
The world can be a brutal place and those of us within it even more so. As unfortunate a reality as that is, tell me, is there anything more upsetting than living at time when we have the power and apparent inclination to do something to ease the suffering but prefer to massage our collective consciousnesses with such misguided attempts at humanism?
If we ever do decide to stand together, as a species, such problems will cease to exist at a root-cause level. More importantly though; if we cannot, the future will be no concern of ours at all.