Jul 112014
You and I Soapbox142

Make full dis-closure, and reach the end of (the) matter. Drop the defences, and step over into everlasting life. What’s not to like – La-La? Besides, endings are such a pain as everyone in the death groups knows only too well.

Better stop kicking up the dust shilly-shallying around this good death/bad death thing! It is a fake idea anyway. For good advice there’s the writer Angela Carter talking about ‘how to’ end stories. There’s no such thing as good or bad endings, she said or something along those lines. Actually there’s no such thing as a story ever ending, at best there is just a “pause” . Yes, I remember she definitely used that word.


A day or so ago I get to stand on a soapbox in what now closely resembles a dream sequence. It begins with me standing up and saying, “I’d like to take the soapbox” and walking into the middle of a room.

I knew this room from before. It was circular, sober classical design and decoration, white walls and very high domed ceiling, and a diffuse daylight coming in from somewhere high above. It might have been the side chapel to a great church, except there were secular pictures on the wall which didn’t have anything to do with God or religion. They were early twentieth century paintings, and some sculptures on plinths from the same period too.

A sign was pinned to one of the walls which said “Soapbox”. There was also a circle of about thirty stools in the room which were all filled with people, and I was sitting on one of the stools too. We were nearly all older people from that (so-called) ‘new generation’ of older people between sixty and ninety, who are living so much longer than people in previous times. There were of course more women than men, but I didn’t know any of them, apart from one friend I had come with.

I remember that we were all talking about our idea of a hero and that we had been asked to do so from earlier. I thought it was a strange proposition, especially in the particular situation of this room that looked like a chapel and made me think of Christ or Buddha, and yet was filled with secular objects of western modern art that conflicted with any idea of a spiritual hero.

It was made even more strange and dreamlike because there was a loud rushing noise in the room which made it difficult to hear what anybody was saying. Conversations slipped in and out of my hearing, I am not here I was thinking and nor are most of the others here if they are having as much trouble as I am staying present. I am outside – male outlaw. Make my escape soon.

Then it happens. I raise my hand from where I am sitting on one of the stools and I say, “I’d like to take the soapbox”, stand up and walk into the middle of the circular room. The central space is empty. There isn’t a soapbox to stand on, but there is a big metal grill under my feet. I wonder fearfully what is in the darkness underneath.

All eyes are on me. In this circular room filled with rushing sound I sense that there is a hidden authority which is forcing the breath, and that I have become the gladitorial show in a coliseum. I begin to perceive that there are untold chambers of wild beasts and an endless number of warrior fighters under the metal grill beneath my feet, all waiting to enter the arena and tear me limb from limb or spear me with their deadly weapons. You and I Soapbox141

I know because one has already emerged, an armoured man who is facing me directly across the circle. He is black or at least the colour of his metal head and body is black: he is an incomplete body mix of machine and flesh, he is a man without heart and a man without sex precisely cut off at the middle, he is a man with an iron lung through which the hidden authority in the room is forcing air, and he is a man who has been here for more than 100 years, but the powerful muscled strength of his shoulders tells me he is forever young. He is hero.

Hero – while I am simply an anxious and afraid old man. How did I get to be here I think? ‘Older Men and Expression’*, it said on the ticket!

Male outlaw, and I know that since this armoured man is hero, then I am already judged and done for. Nothing can diminish his power over history or the fast progress of the world, and he has been precisely drilled in what to do. I am turned to stone. In the terror of the gap between us I ask, Are you the man who I am supposed to be?

The feeble words that actually come out of my mouth resemble a protest but nothing can stand up to the familiar violence of the armoured man. It is all quickly over. “I am off the soap box now”, I say as I return to my chair a few moments later, head cast down head and not wishing to catch anybody’s eye. Not actual death you see; like the wise woman says, it never ends.


…And I am not done with my story. “Tenderness runs through men like colour stripes in soft rock. Drill down to find their sweetness”, it begins…

The London Capital Age Festival is on for the first 2 weeks of July supporting numerous events on the theme of ‘Older Men and Expression’, including the “Soapbox” event for July 9th at Tate Britain (“Soapbox” is a free monthly event : ‘a forum to discuss life and art – for people near or beyond the age of sixty’), in which we were asked to look at the sculpture Rock Drill by Jacob Epstein.