It’s time to talk about Brian

It’s time to talk about Brian

Brian Medlin optimised

On a certain Sunday in 1970, I was still at primary school and we were still devout Roman Catholics, though all this was about to change. The day before had seen a huge demonstration in the city, the first in my town of the famous Moratorium marches against the Vietnam War. Hundreds of thousands of people in cities across Australia marched against the idea of the war, and in particular against the conscription of young men like my father and his friends to provide cannon-fodder for the Americans.

On this certain Sunday we went to church and the priest started a usual sermon about the usual subjects. We were there with various friends of my parents who had marched the day before and slept on the floors of our house in order to watch what was going to happen now. My father stood up in church and interrupted the sermon. How could it be, he called out, that a priest would talk about anything that day except the momentous events of the day before? I recall the drama of the moment, the confusion of the priest, but nothing more.

The day before, Brian Medlin, a philosopher who saw no boundaries between philosophy and life, a radical leader of the anti-war movement in Australia, was arrested and spent some weeks in gaol. Although he had nothing but good things to say of his treatment while there, one might point out that this was the same police force which was infamously stained for its brutal murder of homosexual academic George Duncan shortly after. Not surprisingly, ASIO (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation) saw Medlin as a person of interest. He was watched in this period, his files released some years ago.

In the US, France and Australia, the student unrest of the sixties and seventies was intimately connected with the Vietnam War. However, it spread in many directions. Barbara Ehreinreich in her important account of the early stages of the demise of the Middle Class – Fear of Falling – was one of those students. She recounts the fact that academic staff were mostly conservative and reactionary in their fearful and angry attempts to deal with the students in this period. One can even suppose that when the military and the police shot and killed student demonstrators in the US, academia might have given it the nod.

In Australia, without that level of bloodshed, the same things happened: radicalisation of students at university level in particular (though schools could be involved too) leading to serious conflict with academic and administrative staff. By far the most radical was the newly established Flinders University where Brian Medlin taught Philosophy. At its high (some will say low) point, the students occupied the administrative headquarters of Flinders for an entire month. In this period, they were able to establish the CIA connections of the (American) Vice Chancellor.

Teachers could be for or against the students. Medlin, unlike most teachers, was generally speaking on the side of the students. He was without doubt an inspirational teacher. He introduced political philosophy – the study of Marxist-Leninism and Maoism. He insisted on a politics in art course. He introduced ‘women’s’ studies. His content and ways of teaching were radical and above all were about the real world. Philosophy for him could not be separated from the real world. Nothing was abstract.

All this had real consequences. NOT citations. If you want to measure the man in metrics, you will find him sadly lacking. But if you want to understand, for example, the important mainstream interaction of politics and folk/rock/pop music as is still ongoing in Australia, it comes from one person. Brian Medlin, who inspired students through the politics in art course to take this as their lives. Red Gum was the start. Many others were to follow.

We have here a man whose country origins, in the middle of the edge of nowhere, a town on the Goyder Line, never left him. As soon he could read, he became a poet and we see in Medlin an important type of character in white Australian history, the bush poet. And this poetry is not the stuff of dusty slim books, it is true poetry, to be spoken, shared around a camp fire while swatting flies. Drunk. As blokey as it gets. No matter how hard I try, I cannot imagine a female in the setting.

He had no need to be important, he was important if there was need to be. Flinders University saw him as a total disaster and generally speaking, his colleagues wished they had never set eyes on him. Yet he was larger than all of them combined. He suffered fools not at all. In 1957 he wrote “Ultimate Principles and Ethical Egoism” an essay against objectivism. I’m guessing it’s the only thing he is cited for. His real work was for the environment, and that in a small, personal non-polemical way. He simply took land and healed it. Made it what it used to be. What better occupation for a philosopher I wonder?

I see a connection between Feyerabend and Medlin here. Neither was really interested in the business of being an academic, the paper work, the course work, none of it. Despite this (or because of it?), they were inspiring teachers. However, Feyerabend was a lost soul, spending his life on the road, being famous in one place and then in another. Feeding off that. The adulation, the money, the faux insistence on seeking solitude. Medlin on the other hand had no need to prove his cleverness, he took it in his stride. He absolutely knew every moment of every day that his home was the Australian bush.

In his reminiscences of Medlin after his death, David Armstrong recalled the poem written by the philosopher Charles Martin about Brian.

Some of his bones
Were broken by others
But most
Were broken by himself.

He loved
Far more
Than he hated
But the fight
He fought
Called more
For hate.

To make up the rest
Anger, feeding anger
Would have to do.

And thus Armstrong had to admit that despite the ferocity of their antipathy for its many years’ duration, it was never Hate.

It was a strange period for children of parents who were questioning society, the rules, how they should live in that period. A year or so after the Sunday of the Questioning of the Priest, I found myself in a school with one of Medlin’s sons. The school was a place for people who could afford to, to lodge their misfit kids. I didn’t know that at the time. My parents asked me if I wanted to go there, it was a Summerhill inspired place, and I, knowing no better said yes. I found it depressing to discover that in a school of misfits I did not fit in. Even amongst them I was a misfit. I don’t know how Brian’s kids managed, it must have been terribly hard having such a man as one’s father. Fortunately, in the end, we are able to grow up and escape our childhood homes.

I gather somebody is going to write about Medlin and I hope it isn’t too late. I confess, I’d love to do it myself. I hope they understand the idea of the sort of person Medlin was. A country boy whose brilliance took him to Oxford. They have to understand the Goyder Line and moving animals across Australia, which is something Medlin did pre-Oxford. They will have to look at his brother, Harry. This town of Orroroo produced two boys who became prominent academics. Harry was older and I suspect that the experience of WWII prior to his education must have severely challenged his relationship with his brother. Certainly it’s an old story, that one, the boy who goes and the boy who doesn’t in Australia. (Brian was too young to go). Harry spent years of the war in the infamous Changi, went to university after his release and became an important part of the University of Adelaide. I can’t help thinking this would make such a great story, the two boys, so close and not. Harry was no Marxist-Leninist revolutionary, but he was no arch conservative either. When the Adelaide Festival committee in the 1960s refused as a censorship move to stage one of Patrick White’s plays, Harry insisted that the University Play Group put it on and they did such a great job of it that White gave them other premieres. Teaching science he once asked a girl what she thought about something. She said coming from the sexist European background that she did, she’d never been asked that before. What did she think?

Whoever writes this book has to examine this relationship, strangely almost non-existent, as far as I can see, in public, but there must be more to it, surely. How strange it is that Harry’s wiki article doesn’t mention the existence of an important academic brother. Still, at least he has one. Brian doesn’t. Metrics aren’t good enough.

One of the things that struck me as I observed Manny reading this book is that he had no respect for it. This was partly because he saw Brian Medlin as an academic with little in the way of citations – and therefore isn’t worthy of consideration as a thinker – and partly because Iris writes so little back. The most superficial of interpretations is that she was obliged to write back. So he doesn’t even stand up to scrutiny as a ‘real’ friend of a celebrated writer, as Iris was (I feel her standing is steadily decreasing for the moment).

Another issue for Manny was that these letters from Brian were not well written. They weren’t Letters, they were letters. Who could have thought to write like that to the great Murdoch.

It’s not such a hard question to answer. A friend. A friend who loved communicating by the written word, at least if the spoken was not available when words meant more, harder to write and harder to speak to one’s audience. It is precisely the point that he didn’t write Letters. Not pompous literary epistles with a view to their ultimate public unveiling, but a mishmash of this and that which can only derive from real friendship.

I don’t know if I can capture Medlin in a way that will make Manny – or others to whom the culture is alien – understand that he is important. But I will end with this, written by Professor Brian Matthews on the release of this book. Source is Eureka Street.

It was January 1968. In those summer days before the start of my first term as a university lecturer, I’d arrive early in the morning, go into my room and more or less skulk there. I didn’t even go to morning tea. I knew two people in the whole School of Language and Literature at Flinders University and they were both on leave.
After about two weeks of my reclusive behaviour, I was startled one morning when there was what sounded like not a knock but a kick on my door, which then burst open before I could speak, and in walked Brian Medlin, inaugural professor of philosophy.
‘Look, mate,’ he said, ‘if you’ve taken a vow of silence for some reason, then of course I’ll respect it. As a matter of fact, there are a few people round here I wish would emulate you. But if that’s not the case, why don’t you come and have a cup of tea and meet some of your colleagues, for what that might turn out to be worth.’
So I did, of course, and my life at Flinders changed radically for the better under what became a stern, no bullshit but straightforwardly affectionate mentorship.
Though in general, like most of us, Brian loathed meetings and committees, the committee room was one of the many stages on which he gave some of his more memorable performances. I would often sit with him at the meetings and so had a privileged view of the theatre that frequently followed his entry into a debate.
At one meeting, while Brian was speaking I could see that on the opposite side of the table a self-proclaimed Medlin antagonist was becoming quietly enraged and the moment he had an opportunity he launched into an extraordinary tirade. When the chairman offered Medlin the right of reply, he said, ‘Mr Chairman, I did not say what I said with the express intention of driving our colleague opposite into an apoplectic fit. That this has in fact happened I can only regard as a bonus.’
At another characteristically tumultuous meeting, the head of the discipline of fine arts handed round a printed page headed ‘Propositions’. There were 11 propositions but as it turned out not enough of the sheets to go round. When one of them reached me I put it between us and we both read it. Brian, having studied it intently for a few minutes, passed the page on for those who still might not have seen it.
When the item came up for discussion there was a quarter hour of the usual swapping of opinion, outrage, assent and objection. Then Medlin entered the fray. Still without a copy in front of him, he said something like this: ‘If proposition 4 is true then propositions 8 and 10 can’t be; if propositions 8 and 10 are in doubt then proposition 6 becomes redundant, if we scrap Proposition 6 then Proposition 1 becomes …’ and so on.
It was an extraordinary performance and the question of whether or not there was any flaw in his analysis — though no one pointed any out at the time — became secondary to the sheer cavalier daring of his intervention.
Medlin expected such daring of others. In May 1988, having heard that I was going to Sydney, Brian asked me why and I told him it was because I’d won the NSW Premier’s Literary Award. He was genuinely delighted to hear this and asked me if I would have to give a speech. I told him I would but had no idea what to say.
‘The Elder Cato’, Brian said, ‘ended every speech to the Roman Senate with the words, “And furthermore Carthage must be destroyed — Carthargo delenda est.” You should end like that,’ he said as if nothing could be more obvious.
Well, with difficulty and severe contortions of sequence and logic, but with the ameliorating help of a judicious amount of alcohol, I actually did contrive to end my short acceptance speech with Carthago delenda est.
During the drinks afterwards I met Ed Campion, an old friend, Jesuit educated, a fine writer and a priest.
‘What did you think of my Latin conclusion?’ I said incautiously.
‘Delenda est Carthago would have been more elegant,’ he said.
I reported to Brian on my return and quoted Campion’s amendment.
‘Fucking Jesuits,’ he said.
Brian Medlin, on his own admission, left the publication of his life’s work to his last few years, but the passions, gifts and lyricism of this poet, essayist, philosopher, naturalist and storyteller were set free in an extraordinary correspondence he conducted with British novelist Iris Murdoch.
Now published as Never Mind about the Bourgeoisie, edited by Graham Nerlich and Gillian Dooley, their letters cover more than two decades and, with love, wit, subtlety, argument and insight, address an inspiring range of subjects until, with both writers terminally ill, Murdoch’s last letter tapers off tragically, movingly:
‘How much time has passed … Much love dearest Brian, do write —
Iris.
Also; love, mortality and the meaning of life.’

Tirra Lirra by the River by Jessica Anderson

This is an absolute stunner. It gets Australia completely right without the cheapness of St John’s shots. It nails the state of captivity of women without agency. Nora’s need to escape, and taking marriage as the way out is heartbreaking. The role of education, and even more that of reading, which I might add is big in Women in Black and also in My Brilliant Friend comes comes into play here too. To be educated is to escape the poverty and meanness of life in city Australia and country Australia as much as it may extract you from neighbourhood Naples. To forsake education in favour of marriage as one’s saviour is to court utter ruination. To read is to build one’s dreams of escape. Oh, I did this as a child and many must have had it much, much worse than I.

Unadornished truth – put both simply and exquisitely – from her discussions of sex to abortion to family relations, mothers-in-law, the house-wife reduced to pilfering coins from the wallets and purses of those who hold her in captivity. Life alone. I read that in the eighties this was a set text for high school in Melbourne. Harrowing stuff. Bitter-sweet. Sad. True. This is a book I’d like everybody to read.

Easily five stars. I confess I had not heard of Anderson, and I shall most eagerly be seeking out more.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

When I was seven my father disowned his family. It was, he explained at the time, because he did not want us to be raised in the culture of violence and ignorance that made his family what it was. Although from the stories I heard from him, I had some picture in my mind of what that meant, it was really only upon reading this series that I have a clear sense of what we escaped. In fact, my father’s family is Calabrian from the area where John Paul Getty III was held after being kidnapped. Far more violent than the pussy Neapolitans.

So, on a personal level what I got from this was an inkling of what my life might have been like, had my father not made that decision. The culture is violent, the people, all relationships on all levels. The language is not violent, it is violence. That is the purpose of dialect, to express violence and threats and anger and powerlessness and vitriol and abuse.  It is a weapon. Having read these books and lived through the sometimes terrifying behaviour of my father I wonder whether it is learned or genetic. I do so hope it isn’t something I can’t undo in me.

I felt part Elena so often I stopped counting. Not just because my father, despite his best intentions, could not save us entirely from this life because he could not save us from himself, but for so many decisions she made as a child, growing up, and then as an adult. It’s an excruciatingly painful business, watching a person in a book do incredibly idiotic things as she does in her personal relationships all the time, knowing that one has done them all with no better capacity to explain than this series does.  How could she have got involved with Nino, even as a teenager, let alone as an adult. The only thing that makes me realise that it is permissible within the constraints of the book is that I’ve done the same stupid, stupid things.

I was unable to put down the first volume until I’d finished it. The most fantastic end to a book I’ve ever read by the way, and endings are impossibly hard to do. Two weeks in Melbourne, back to Adelaide and I discover that there is one shop where I can buy them. Imprints Booksellers, thank you! I bought the other three volumes and read them back to back over the course of a week. Does one need a review after that statement? A friend in Melbourne who is an Italian literature academic started reading the first and called up uni to say she wouldn’t be in that week. Unputdownable does not in the slightest exaggerate the effect of these.

Peter at East Avenue Books put me onto this series. It’s a secondhand bookshop in Clarence Park specialising in literature – if you live in Adelaide you must go there!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does James Bond have to go through airport security?

Geneva airport, our plane is boarding. We have just got to the top of the security check queue which is so long today that they have extended it into the airport pathway. That, after a ten minute wait in the fast track of Easy Jet luggage checkin. And today, of all days, is the first time our Easy Jet flight has been on time for years. That’d be right.

But we were okay now, through the thing where you might beep but don’t. Hand on my luggage when a voice says:

‘Is that your luggage ma’am?’

And you look up and say ‘yes’ to the female security guards who ask you to ‘come this way’.

‘Do you know why we are going to search your bags, ma’am?’

I give a seriously stressed out answer because I’m seriously stressed out.

‘So that I miss my plane?’

‘It’s because you have a large knife in your bags, ma’am.’

Do they think I’m a complete idiot? What sort of dickwit would pack a knife in their carry on luggage? Manny comes over and I tell him when he asks, ‘They are looking for the large knife we packed this morning.’ Spoken with all the sarcasm I could muster, which was quite a lot.

Losing it in Switzerland isn’t a great idea. Losing it in airports isn’t a great plan either. Swiss airports? Don’t even think about it. But our plane was boarding. They couldn’t find the knife. They are inclined, in fact to believe me and turn to look at the X-ray dude who has put me in this position. He stares at me and shakes his head in a way that says ‘Think you are getting away with this? Forget it.’

I start getting a wind up, I’m ranting away. ‘Hello? Do you really think ‘a big knife’ could be in there’ as one of them unzips my purse which is maybe 2 inches wide. They are pulling everything out of my bags and I’m in the middle of ‘What are you guys doing, seriously. Why aren’t you out catching terrorists instead of harrassing innocent travellers like -‘ and I don’t actually finish my sentence because as I’m saying that, it dawns on me that one of them is pulling a knife out of my carry-on, where it is hiding in the side at the bottom, just about where you would hide a knife if you were.

Hiding a knife. Which I wasn’t. But there it was. Undeniably there was what I would not call a large knife, but a decent sized one all the same in my carry-on. If Sharia law insisted that somebody’s head had to be removed from their body during the course of our flight to Gatwick airport, this knife wouldn’t cut it. But absolutely one could see it sticking into somebody’s heart or slitting their throat.

Or…as I recollect during the horror I am feeling, cutting cheese and fruit. The weekend before we had been on a train trip and I’d taken the knife to cut things for lunch. Here it was, still in my bag.

Fucketty-fuck. Grovelling apologies. Tip to the X-ray man who was so on the job. It turns out it only looks like they aren’t really looking. How tricky can you get? I’m explaining away and these very nice security guards who have just put up with my diatribe couldn’t be, well, sweeter about it. Maybe their English wasn’t up to it, I don’t know. Or it’s because I’m short. But although they said it was all right, no problem, they did nonetheless take my particulars.

They put my name and address in a big black book whilst telling me not to worry. If they don’t want you to worry, why is it big and black?  Couldn’t they make it pink or something? And smaller. A Hello Kitty notepad, something like that.

The terrorist register. I can just see it. And my worst fears are confirmed. I’ve felt like a terrorist since September 2010 when I was given my second passport. I guess lots of people have two passports from two countries. But mine have two names on them. Now I’m a person with two passports with different IDs and a penchant for packing dangerous weapons in my carry-on. James Bond, eat your heart out.

Noah’s Compass by Anne Tyler

Consider this book a small break in transmission. One can read only so much about 1930s and 1940s Europe without respite.

Like the work of many good and bad writers, a Tyler book is something you slip into, she has her template. I continue to be amazed as what she does with it.

Every book is about the most ordinary people living the most ordinary lives, drab humdrum lives. Every book is hauntingly sad. But Tyler’s touch is so deft, where other writers stamp their words on the page, making sure they are noticed, Tyler’s float. And every now and then one suddenly stops and thinks, yes, that was the meaning of life just there, not trumpetted and fanfared – hel-lo reader, are you paying attention, I’m going to say something important now – but just a sentence, towards the bottom of a page, easy enough to miss altogether as you advance to the next.

There is always humour in her books.

Anne Tyler loves people. She loves her characters, she is effortlessly all of them. The main character, a male, whose downer of a life is managing to spiral even further down, or a teenage girl, it doesn’t matter, they are all intensely real and intensely characters; that is to say, you can picture them all clearly in your mind’s eye. So many writers can’t do that at all, it’s not to be taken for granted to find one that can give you this vision.

She writes novels, but they are sparing of words. There is no padding.

There is something of the Lucy-Charlie Brown relationship between the reader – Charlie – and the books – Lucy. Every time the reader hopes against hope, that this is the one, the one that’s going to end up happily ever after. It never is. I don’t mean by this that the boy never gets the girl, or the girl the boy, but that however the specific story goes, you will be left with the same emptiness inside. Boys cry when they read Anne Tyler. But despite that, Tyler doesn’t want her characters to give up, she certainly wouldn’t want the reader to either.

Her books are never judgemental of anybody or anything. They are never political. They contain no messages. They are simply as finely crafted observations of the absurd nature of the human condition as one could ever read.

The Philosopher as Expert by Richard Rorty

This is an essay which anybody who has ever regaled a professional philosopher should read. It will make you snort with laughter as Rorty tells you exactly how it is, these guys in their glass castles having obscure debates about nothing that matters, when we all know that philosophy is about the things that do matter. Well, it should be anyway, right? It’s lost its way, it used to be vital, now it’s irrelevant. We all know it except the professional philosophers and you have to wonder why they are so thick that they don’t get it.

So, there you are, chortling away, thinking how hilarious Rorty is, and how brilliantly he has captured what makes you right and them wrong, when at some point you start thinking you didn’t laugh at all on that page and you turn and, well, you don’t laugh on this one either, or when you do, it’s getting a bit half-hearted, and you note that you are still there on the page, but shit, somehow Rorty is starting to explain that you are a complete arse-hole, an ignorant narrow-mindeded bigot of an amateur philosopher. He explains exactly what philosophy is, so that even you can understand it and understand why it is doing exactly what it should be doing. And why every time you told a professional philosopher his business, you were being a complete dick.

I don’t know if I will get to the book that comes with the essay, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, but for the first time in my life I have half a clue what philosophy is and why it’s important. What a pity there does not seem to be anything in the way of a Rorty-Feynman exchange. One cannot help feeling Feynman would have been put in his place too.

You can find the essay here.

The Human Touch by Michael Frayn

I can’t imagine reading this book, having lived through Manny’s reading of it. It was awful, listening to him talk about how completely Frayn had misunderstood everything in science and philosophy he talked about. When he did come to actual interesting content by Frayn he couldn’t stand the round about, waffling way in which he wrote, peppering everything with asides which were sometimes entertaining and generally irrelevant. Somehow Bill Bryson writing mostly of irrelevancies is okay, but not Frayn. Maybe he isn’t good enough a writer.

Having started this book some years ago, I am certainly never going to read it now. I don’t have the discerning eye resulting from knowledge of the fields to be able to read it in a discriminating way. But I want to make a few points which come from my understanding of Frayn which explain the failure of this book.

The first is that this book is the consequence of a shambles – Frayn’s mulling over the world for a great many years. So when, for example, he discusses some point of AI which has been obsolete for decades, or a Chomsky theory which he himself abandoned before the old queen died, this is, I suspect, because his ideas came from that period. We happen to be reading them now.

The second is that this book undoubtedly reflects something Frayn talks about in Stage Directions – he found it very hard to go back to novels after working as a dramatist for a long period because writing plays was writing in a highly disciplined limited way, whereas novel writing was like open countryside compared with the city. Limitless. He found it necessary to create ways to give the novel limits. One can see that, for example, in one of my favourites, The Trick of It. In this context, what could be more unbounded, less able to be disciplined, than the subject of The Human Touch?

The third is that Frayn – and again this comes from reading Stage Directions – is obsessed with the notion of the audience and in particular with is ability to change the thing it is watching. Nothing is objective. The meaning of everything and anything comes from its audience. Again, one can see how strongly this comes to bear on the ideas he discusses in The Human Touch. If Frayn had stuck to novel writing and never written plays, I don’t think this book would ever have been conceived of, let alone written.

However wrong Frayn gets the science and academic philosophy into which he ventures, nonetheless he had a germ of interesting content of his own which has been so drowned in a bad book that Manny in his review couldn’t even bring himself to talk about it. He didn’t want to give the book one way to escape from its awfulness. It is a mystery to me that this book was published. A mystery that it didn’t go through some kind of editorial process that could have transformed it into something worthwhile. A mystery that nobody who did read it prepublication had any sort of knowledge which extended far enough to explain to him that most of the book is drivel. Alan Lightman post publication was very kind to it. Other reviewers to a man seem to have either not read it at all, lied through their teeth, or were utterly ignorant of good layman’s knowledge of the fields in question – science, philosophy, maths.

One could conclude that this is an exercise in the complete failure of the publication system. And yet, then one comes upon this, from the WestEnd Whingers, not about this book, but about the nature of the entity of Michael Frayn:

To stage one verse play may be regarded as a misfortune; to stage two looks like carelessness. Or malice.

Yes, after the unpleasantness of Fram, the National has contrived to prescribe for the general public’s indigestion yet another unpalatable dose of doggerel in the form of Michael Frayn’s Afterlife.

Surely some mistake? We think this is how it must have happened…

Picture the scene at the National’s literary department the day that the eagerly awaited jiffy bag from Mr Frayn finally thuds into their in-tray with the force of a brick into a box of kittens.

They tear off the top of the bag and all gather round to gasp in awe at the first sight of a brand new play by the very clever man who penned the brilliant Noises Off and some other plays that were clearly written by someone of great intelligence and went down very well with the critics.

Tentatively holding the edge of the front page by only his fingertips, Nicholas Hytner gingerly turns the page…

“Salzburg. 1920. Yes. Different. Ooh, Max Reinhardt. Yes, people may have heard of him. None of your Fridtjof Nansen nonsense. Heh heh. Promising, promising…”

Mr Hytner turn the page to Act 1 and freezes. The room, hitherto silent yet buzzing with anticipation, is suddenly merely silent.

“It’s… in… verse!” someone – possibly Chris Campbell – finally whispers.

“Oh, no!” cries the entire congregation.

“What are we going to do?”

“We’ll have to send it back”

“Send it back? Send it back? It’s Michael Bloody Frayn not Marks and Spencer. We can’t send it back!”

“Well, someone’s going to have to tell him! We tried all this rhyming stuff in that bloody Harrison thing and look where that got us.”

They all shudder.

Mr Hytner turns to the next page. Then the next. Then the next and so on faster and faster until:

“Wait! It’s OK. It’s not ALL in verse. Just some of it!”

“Perhaps we could just ask him to take out the rhyming bits?”

“Well, I’m not asking him. It’s Michael Bloody Frayn! You ask him.”

“You do it. You’re in charge, aren’t you?”

The phone rings. They all stare at it, then at each other. No-one moves.

“Oh for heaven’s sake….”

Mr Hytner answers it cautiously.

“Hello? Yes, oh, hello, Mr Frayn. Yes, Sir, it’s just arrived. We’re looking at it now. Yes. Marvellous. These rhyming bits… Yes, oh, I see, I see. Yes, very clever. Yes of course we’ll put it into production right away, Mr Frayn.”

For the rest of the absolutely hilarious description of the National’s staging of Afterlife go here But the point is, maybe it is this simple. The Human Touch thudded into somebody’s inbox, killing a few kittens on its arrival, and the rest was inevitable. And to think, if it had been the right size, the size it should have been, not even the teensiest new born kitty would have even noticed it landing….