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Worm By Johnny Rodger. My forebears knew nothing of politics. They just got on with it. There was naturally a sort of, what you might call, folk memory; but in the twists and turns of its representations it rarely seemed to reach beyond a sentimental attachment to the conventional. In that sense, as I have understood it, there was no city, no commonwealth. That"s not to say that there were no rules for the regularisation of our behaviour. There we were, hundreds – maybe thousands – of us together (at least that"s the way it seemed to a youngster), practically living on top of one another. Yet in the infinite roll of possible involvements there, only the face-to-face encounter, as it were, brought the question of etiquette strongly and consciously into play. There were no hypothetical worms. On the other hand, it"s not as if the words and actions of absent acquaintances – or even strangers – carried no weight with us. We"d often wrangle for hours over the possible motives a fellow might have for taking such and such a course. But this was no platonic disquisition, for it was always practised in a sneering dismissive tone, which after all was said and done ascribed every interest to the basest of instincts. So what need then, you might say, of laying down rules when tradition has it that the population at large simply can"t help but follow certain set patterns of behaviour? It"s a cynic"s view of course. And it would be too easy just to say we are a nation of cynics. In a fashion, I suppose, our lack of explicitly codified legislation might be explained by our overdeveloped physical constitution. It may sound like a macho point – the cynic is all brawn no brain, so to speak – but it need not necessarily be so. When I first stuck my nose out and left my native patch I sustained two shocks for which my home life had left me completely unprepared. In the first place there was the sudden consciousness that those aspects considered as our great strengths in the domestic arena, could only be felt in this wider world as vulnerabilities. Take our very bodies: rippling with muscle, famed – at least amongst ourselves – for our ability to come to the point with dexterity and suppleness, and not a millimetre of flesh allowed to go to fat. But there I was out on my own, a young adult forging through the usual filth and wet in search of – well, in search of what? you may well ask – in search of something to make my impulsive searching worthwhile? Anyhow, this deftness I speak of, this ability on which we pride ourselves to round smartly and economically on our objects is all very well in the

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home: you corral your whole family for example, and nudge them off in the direction you, as muscle-toned paterfamilias know is in their best interests; you wrestle down opponents; and straightway you gulp down food quicker than some others would even have considered how to prepare it. But once you"re out, in the dark, as I say, cold and lonely, you have to ask, what can !deft" even mean in an endless and pointless world? This feeling doesn"t last forever of course, you soon realise as you"re nosing grimly through the sludge that the words you use to describe things just don"t matter when you"re out here alone. After all, you speak a language which you didn"t invent for yourself, you continually use it to draw on a whole stock of knowledge which you didn"t discover for yourself, and in that sense even your own vulnerable body doesn"t really belong to yourself, but to some sort of species – whatever that might mean. You plough on nonetheless, because that"s what you can do. Though oddly, it"s only once you have received the second of those shocks referred to above, that this growing despair and sense of emptiness starts to heal and cover over. How does this happen? Well, it is precisely when you become a mere hypothetical worm that you rediscover those attitudes erstwhile described as the !sentimental attachment to the conventional". You are out there on your own, noone from your home patch could estimate your whereabouts with any accuracy – they cannot even be sure, if they care to dwell on it, that you still exist – but after a while you realise that it is in fact impossible for you to remain one and alone. It"s not just that you keep bumping into others on their quest – there are, you soon find out, numberless millions of us out there. No, but each successive encounter with a fellow wanderer makes less and less of an impression and even less sense, until ultimately you can"t tell one worm from another, and it seems they are all just wasting their time. This judgement is of course not made on the basis of personality or mere physical appearance, but as a reaction to the pattern of interminably futile endeavours which emerges as one after another regales you with their tale. A fellow sidles up to you, coming out of nowhere on your blind side, and starts to tell you how tacky and crass was his home life, but now here he is stripped of all that old baggage and tunnelling towards his own truth with a capital T. They naturally assume that you are in on

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this enterprise too – and how can you even be truthful to yourself and say that you are not? You don"t want to upset this fellow, but why should you upset yourself? The whole thing begins to disgust you – every last mouthful of it. You try to give these fellows the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps in another epoch, this sort of behaviour was more meaningful – in a more heroic age before our ideas had caught up with all the things that lie around us on every side. But no, you have to turn away; you can"t bring yourself to equivocate on the matter. So in order not to get involved in pointless sniping, and in a commentary which, quite frankly, will sound like the envious and embittered criticism of one who has already failed, you begin to avoid your fellows. It"s not such an easy thing to do: there are as I said, quite literally millions of us out there, under every stone, around every patch of grass, in every muddy bank and through every compost heap; and it takes quite a stoical effort to give the brush-off to an incessant train of importunate peers. And what can they, in all innocence, think of this patently ordinary, run-of-the-mill type of their own sort, who affects to look down his nose when they hail him, and darts off through the undergrowth before they"ve finished their first sentence? You understand, after all, that all they require – it"s not much to ask – is confirmation in their conviction that they are on some sort of right path, and that at some stage, in the near future, things will be thought through clearly, in a straight line A to B, and not piled up all higgledy-piggledy on top of one another as usual. They only want you to commune, that is to say, with their enthusiasm for perfectibility and the ideal. But what an unholy communion. Evidently they have no conception of the size of appetite needed to eat through the whole world!

grip on some hard things and move on through them. And it was when I reached just such a hard place that I felt myself turn – inwardly, as it were – and look back over my life. How soft and inviting did the old compost appear then to my careworn body! And I thought of my folks there, always as it seemed, twisting this way and that to silently avoid the question. Thus, perhaps only through disappointment and disillusion, it"s true, you unexpectedly rediscover a system of beliefs that is at once simpler yet more obscure, vaguer and yet more essential. Face-to-face you might call it. At any rate it reinstates a certain confidence at least in the bodily sense. And like my forebears, this time I just keep my head turning. It"s an old worms" wisdom: best not batter too hard for time gets bent. And what does it really mean when you get down to it? – There are no hypothetical worms.

But even this rationalisation of type is to misrepresent and patronise. For in truth, no two individuals out of all those solitary millions can be imagined to have had the same experience on the ground. How can we even, on true inspection, affect to find similarities between the enterprise and aim of each brave worm out dragging its body through the cold earth by dint of its own muscular strength, far less lump their efforts together as one undifferentiated instinctual urge? Think of the numberless variation in origins and paths therefrom which are not only possible but actual in this endless world; not to mention the distinct personal dispositions that each of us brings to those ways. And no doubt there are as many out there avoiding me as have been avoided by me. So you see that sooner or later you cannot even make claims to be able to criticise or dismiss all your formerly cherished hopes and beliefs, without getting caught again in the same traps and snares in which, unbeknown to your former self, those hopes were always fouled up in the first place. You realise for the first time that though this world be infinite, there exist nonetheless some fields wherein there is no place for deliberation and calculation. You"ve just got to get on with it. A private consciousness can"t seem to get a

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Worm j rodger iss18