Because jet lag, obviously. How very annoying.
I am back in Cambridge. When I arrived in Heathrow, I took the Tube to Kings Cross St Pancras, then the train to Cambridge. I decided against the National Express because it would have taken at least 2.5 hours and I didn't feel like spending that much time on a bus, risking motion sickness and hence a really uncomfortable 2.5 hours. The Tube/train combination, on the other hand, would take about 2 hours.
But what was meant to be a quicker way to get back to Cambridge was not to be. For the first time since I moved to Cambridge, for the first time since I'd had to take the train between Cambridge and London, my quick glance at the train timings board to my left while I hurried up the stairs, out of Kings Cross St Pancras and to Kings Cross, produced a jarring effect of cognitive dissonance in my mind. This was what I read: '19:44 Cambridge Delayed.'
DELAYED. I couldn't believe it. Of all the times for the train to be delayed, it had to be on a day when I'd just got off a 12-hour flight, tiredness threatening to take over my body, body clock operating in the +8:00 time zone. It turned out that there were some trespassers on the train tracks in Stevenage somewhere. The powers that be couldn't advise on how long the delay would be.
I was almost resigned to sticking it out at Kings Cross for a couple of hours, and while I was at the cash machine about to take out my wallet to get my ATM card to get money, I suddenly heard an announcement, 'The train at Platform 10 is the 19:57 [or whatever it was] service to Cambridge.'
It was the long train that takes 1 hr 23 minutes to get to Cambridge; the one that I usually take takes less than an hour. But there was absolutely no indication if the fast train would be available anytime soon - and so I aborted my cash withdrawal and got my ass on the train, hence managing to get back to Cambridge at about 10pm.
I was quite fortunate, wasn't I? It really could have been so much worse.
The senseless terrorist attacks in London Bridge and Borough Market - this probably hit closer to home because I frequented those places when I lived in London, even went there sometimes when I visited London in the past 1.5 years. A friend of mine lives and works in the London Bridge area.
There are lots to be said about the change in terrorising tactics by these religious fanatics since 2001, since the shift from targeting state institutions to the civilian population. The change, that is, from going for melodrama, chaos and mayhem on a large scale - a hijacked plane crashing into the Twin Towers, a bomb on the train, on the Tube, on buses, a bomb in the airport, a suicide bomber in a densely populated part of town - to insidiously injecting terror in our every day lives. This message that was sent on Saturday night by these three knife-wielding men who stomped into a perfectly banal and typical Saturday night of a perfectly banal and typical city dweller, a city dweller spending a perfectly banal and typical Saturday night having dinner and drinks in a perfectly banal and typical pub/restaurant in central London - it subverts the mundane, the ordinary, into a vehicle for terror. It is telling all of us who stand opposed to their hateful ideology that we are not safe, even when we think we are - especially because we think we are. It uproots terror from the television screens and newspaper headlines and sends it crashing, screeching and screaming, into the heart of our ordinary lives. It is telling us that there is no safety in walking across London Bridge; there is no safety in having dinner in town on a Saturday night. There is no safety because these acts of violence are random - and there is nothing more random than three men, wielding knives, their hearts seized with hatred, aiming to kill as many random people as possible, storming a random restaurant in a random part of central London, randomly spreading terror and mayhem.
I doubt if I can ever understand the mind of someone capable of this, even if I can understand, as an intellectual matter, the socio-economic and/or cultural factors that cause alienation, resentment, in certain people, and then the yearning for a connection with something, someone, a community, that understands and accepts them. Barry said something interesting yesterday while we did food shopping together - that there are pockets of Muslim-dominant areas in London, especially East London, and it is not right to keep people apart like this. It made me think that the ruling party in Singapore had a point when it forced the different races to live together; for one way to integrate peoples of diverse cultural backgrounds is to facilitate their daily face-to-face interaction. But living in a neighbourhood where the resentment and the alienation are self-fulfilling prophecies would not do much in the way of integration; and the liberal ideals that this country is committed to fundamentally prevents the government from imposing and enforcing forced integration the way that a non-liberal government in Singapore did.
But so much for the intellectual rumination. That is not the point that I wanted to make. The point, rather, is this: sometimes, I am forced to rethink what I believe to be the inviolability of the individuality of every single human being. Sometimes, I think that this position is incompatible with my conviction in the value-neutrality of life in and of itself. If life per se is neither valuable nor value-less, then what it is quality of a human being that makes him inviolable and which morally prohibits us from using him as a means to an end? It cannot be the life that he possesses; but without this life, he wouldn't exist. And if life is only valuable if it can be lived well, what is the point of the existence of all these people who murder innocent people to further an ideology? What is it about them that, prima facie, makes them worthy of being treated with respect for their individuality even though we have little, if any, good reason to do so?
I suppose the question is a bit like asking why we shouldn't execute murderers and rapists, why we shouldn't be able to do whatever we pleased with convicted murderers and rapists: that they are still human beings. Increasingly, though, I am convinced that there is nothing special about this human being as an individual, considered in abstract; rather, what makes me inclined to think that bad people - murderers, rapists, terrorists - should still be treated with some minimal standard of decency and respsect is because they are someone's parents, someone's children, someone's brothers and sisters, someone's husbands and wives. The morally relevant consideration, then, isn't respect for the bad person as an individual, but for those related to him, how they may feel.
This probably makes little sense. Nonetheless, as much as I am a bleeding heart liberal, my response to what happened on Saturday night in London - my beloved London - is inevitably and humanly emotional; and I cannot help but wonder what is the value of the lives of people who would do such things.
I met NEB in Hong Kong. We had dinner and drinks on my first night there, and coffee on the morning of my departure. He took the airport express to the airport with me and sent me off.
He chose a hipster vegetarian place for dinner, and then we went to a cosy wine place in a corner down the road. Conversation was meaningful; the interaction was respectful. He walked me back to my hotel after he showed me his flat.
I was reminded of why I was attracted to him - indeed, why I fell for him - 10 years ago. His intelligence, sharp as ever; his sense of humour, irreverently on point ('Singapore is pork in a halal sandwich'); and now, his taking care of me, looking out for me.
Maybe he was a suitable person at the wrong time. There are only a handful of people in the world with whom I can discuss my existentialist angst, my perpetual sense of dissatisfaction, this deep-seated 'radical, intimate, bitter and incessant boredom' (Flaubert's Parrot, Julian Barnes) that has followed me around like an incompetent assassin for most of my life. NEB is one of them. If I yearn for someone to understand me on a visceral level, then he fits the bill. Perhaps he always has. Perhaps we simply weren't ready for each other 10 years ago.
He was a strange yet familiar face. Talking to him without the baggage of the past - at least on my end - was surprisingly easy. Nothing untoward happened; it was a meaningful conversation between two people. Perhaps they were two people who could have loved each other; one of them certainly loved the other.
I'm not sure what it is that prevents the words from flowing - the passage of time, the loss of the immediate rawness of the encounter, a lack of care about him as my ex-boyfriend, a mental block that does not want to process this? I rather liked the glimpse into the relationship that I could have had, almost had, had but lost, and it is too much of a mindfuck for me to process and so I don't want to? Maybe all this is just cheap sentimentality, the dramatist in me trying to read significance into a situation where no such significance exists.
I don't know. I have no words.
On another note, I am reading Maugham's The Moon and Sixpence. Absolutely brilliant so far. And I loved this part:
I pictured their lives, troubled by no untoward adventure, honest, decent, and, by reason of those two upstanding, pleasant children, so obviously destined to carry on the normal traditions of their race and station, not without significance. They would grow old insensibly; they would see their son and daughter come to years of reason, marry in due course - the one a pretty girl, future mother of healthy children; the other a handsome, manly fellow, obviously a soldier; and ata least, prosperous in their dignified retirement, beloved by their descendants, after a happy, not unuseful life, in the fullness of their age they would sink into the grave.
That must be the story of innumerable couples, and the pattern of life it offers has a homely grace. It reminds you of a placid rivulet, meandering smoothly through green pastures and shaded by pleasant trees, till at last it falls into the vasty sea; but the sea is so calm, so silent, so indifferent, that you are troubled suddenly by a vague uneasiness. Perhaps it is only by a kink in my nature, strong in me even in those days, that I felt in such an existence, the share of the great majority, something amiss. I recognized its social value. I saw its ordered happiness, but a fever in my blood asked for a wilder course. There seemed to me something alarming in such easy delights. In my heart was a desire to live more dangerously. I was not unprepared for jagged rocks and treacherous shoals if I could only have change - change and the excitement of the unforeseen.
Are those that seem content in their ordered happiness really happy? Have they ever wanted to break with the mould and venture out of the comforting embrace of the familiar and do something unexpected? Why do I have this kink in my nature that causes me to thumb my nose at the safety net of this ordered happiness?
What am I looking for, why am I never content?