shot in the cock


Someone said something like how terrible it is that the truth of war is that it dehumanises humans. We were in Liverpool. We’d been to see this play which you can read about here and here, and it was in many ways excellent. My other half was at school with Mr Sharkey, who wrote it, and even though I don’t really know him, it was particularly satisfying watching and participating (the audience do participate after all) in the work of someone who we are linked to in one way or another. The play is about a family who have been torn apart by violence, both the private family violence at home and the violence of World War II, and what happens to them. Revenge, we are told, is the main theme but personally I’d avoid scheming it and theme-ing it and just say it was about the violence of life and what we are all capable of. I sat through the play and found myself reflecting on the violence I’ve witnessed in my life, mostly in Angola, and a little bit in Ivory Coast. (I know there’s violence all over the world but these are two places where I’ve seen conflict at first hand.) And I was struck afterwards by the notion that war dehumanises us, because I’ve always thought the absolute opposite. War is what humans are doing a lot of the time. It is utterly human. Violence is utterly human. I don’t want to be pedantic with the semantics but dehumanise means to deprive of human qualities or attributes, or thereabouts. One of the great problems with the way many people understand war and conflict is that they approach it from the belief that it is something other than human; and therefore, something that anyone in their right mind wouldn’t participate in. My (minimal) experience of war and conflict – seeing it and avoiding it and, on the odd occasion, participating in it – is how totally and completely and utterly human it made me feel. During and after and ever more. Vulnerable, guilty, capable of evil. We all are. There’s nothing inhuman or dehuman or abnormal about it: it’s what we are, it’s there in us all. In fact – and this makes my spine curl to say it – but being out of war, in this society we call peaceful, this particularly pernicious consumerist place, is what dehumanises. It’s ugly, greedy, selfish and absurdly luxurious to say it, but I still yearn for that war. I wish I’d got the title before Anthony Lloyd did – My war gone by, I miss it so. He’s seen and been in more wars than me, but believe me, you don’t have to be in the extreme violence of survival for long to know it. The awful tension: you don’t want more because you know it kills, hurts and ruins – but you do want more because it’s humanising, it’s real. It is real.

This is not: trowels to pick up dog-shit on the beach just in case a little kid comes along and eats it (I did eat dog-shit as a child, but only once); doting fathers force-feeding fat kids on McFries and McShakes to blasting house music just across the car-park from four warehouse loads of shops; days indoors behind the rain-dripping window reading the Telegraph colour supplement’s review of rich people in Hampstead who happened to become writers and who only smoke one roll-up a day; worrying about where to park the car, to park the car, to park the car; vinegar splashing on your trousers; too much public transport; Portuguese police eating lunch; the colour of your hair; speaking English; all the clothes shops on Islington’s Upper Street; actually all of Upper Street.

Liverpool’s like a ghost-town. And in the theatre, people sitting next to us and in front of us turned and talked to us. And people laughed when the mother’s boyfriend was shot in the cock. It was bloody awful. But bloody funny. It was. It was. If I could, I’d go to the theatre in Liverpool a lot more. And if you hear that The May Queen is coming to a theatre near you, I’d buy a ticket. It’s not at all bad.

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