Friday, 13 December 2013

Intrinsic Engineering - the true meaning of Christmas

Every partner, husband or boyfriend needs to be careful at this time of year.  If we do not tread a delicate course, if we fail to navigate a treacherous pathway, we hear the 5 words that can strike a chord of fear into the hearts of even the toughest man.  An even more terrifying 5 words than “Have you emptied the dishwasher?”, and carrying eminently greater threat.  Even more horrific than “Are those your toenail clippings?”, or the ever more spine tingling than “You leave the toiletseat up?”

Brace yourself. 

The sentence I refer to is “Shall we watch Love, Actually?”

Most of us can sneak through a yuletide without being subjected to this bloodcurdling 2 hours.  Some of you may think I’m being over the top in this (moi?), but I would also argue that there are other people out there – other men – who feel the same way I do.  We have to sit by and watch, generally covered in the debris of wet tissues and chocolate wrappers, as Firth and Grant look all sad and forlorn, as that cute little boy runs through the airport, as Firth makes that grating speech in cobbled Portuguese.  Yule? More like Yuk.

However, there is one bit I always appreciate and nod along to (thankfully, towards the beginning).  Richard Curtis’ words are correct: if you want to see the human race at its best, look at places of meeting, such as airport lounges.  I strongly believe in the sentiment that put so well: apart from a few faulty machines and some lingering problems, the human race is intrinsically engineered to good, and it’s probably our saving grace.

Christmas films are full of it.  When George Bailey “misplaces” that $8,000, people cannot help enough, except for one “faulty machine” (mean old Mr Potter).  Through the power of good, redemption is achieved and celebrated.  Intrinsic engineering.

My previous Christmas blogs are littered with Dickensian references, but you cannot deny it: upon seeing the error of his miserable ways, Scrooge becomes as good a man and as good a… you know the rest.  Simple really – intrinsic engineering.

The list goes on – Miracle on 34th Street, Meet me in St Louis, and (for younger bloggers) Elf.  My children recently subjected me to Arthur Christmas – same thing.  Regardless of the issues, barriers and problems placed in our way, the human race will overcome – it’s all about intrinsic engineering.

This topples over into music videos; have you ever watched the vid for Pipes of Peace?  Based on a story as old as the hills, but even more monumental.  There, in the middle of the worst battleground in the history of war, intrinsic engineering.  If you watch the vid for Greg Lake’s I believe in Father Chirstmas right to the end, the last slides are of war and destruction, until the very, very last second, when the scene is of a soldier returning home to his son, both with arms outstretched.  Intrinsic engineering – we’re wired for good.  The ultimate Christmas song, the Fairytale of New York, is all about two people struggling in a foreign land which should have held promise and wonder.  Instead, what they have is no more than one another, and that is their key strength.   Intrinsic engineering.

I know what you’re going to say.  You don’t even have to raise that eyebrow of disbelief.  You’re about to counter with the simplest yet most powerful argument imaginable:  “It’s all fiction Chubs!”.

I would answer simply thus.  You are correct.

However, before you strode too far into the smug zone, I would call you back by saying that although I have only mentioned fiction so far, surely this year has seen more real life examples of this state than usual?

When we awoke a few Saturdays ago to the awful news of the helicopter crash in Glasgow, I was as sad and horrified as the rest of us.  My wife watched the news reports, clutching her mug of tea, with an attention bordering on the macabre; I had not the stomach for it.  Not that I didn’t care, and not that I wasn’t interested, but I could not (and I am not too proud to admit it) listen to the sad requiems for people lost without it tearing me to pieces. 

However, I ventured into the lounge at one point to replenish the tea (she’s less likely to want to watch L, A if she’s full of bromine) and stayed to watch for a few moments.  And in those few seconds, there it was.  The news reporter was appropriately sombre and dignified, but must have felt his heart lift when he recounted the incredible bravery of those people who had got themselves out, and then formed a human chain to help other survivors out of the wreckage.  When all around was despair, there you had it: intrinsic engineering.

Then, not a few days later, we heard the reports of the terrible weather hitting the coasts around the country.  The picture of the house that fell into the sea will surely be one of the abiding images of the year.  The house owner on the news, devastated of course.  Watching it on a handheld device, you got the option to watch the man’s full interview, which, entranced, we chose to do.

His full interview – full of hate?  Full of unfairness?  Bemoaning his fate?  Not a word, not one.  The man (who, a few Christmases ago would have been a candidate for one of my wise man blogs) first told of how he was sat in a local club, supporting a charity event, when a complete stranger came and told him that the weather was getting worse, and, if he lived on the coast, he needed to take care.  So he rushed home, and the impending ruin was clear. 

His first action?  He rescued his cats.  All life is precious, after all.

Next?  Well, what would you do?  I haven’t a clue.  Nor, by his own confession, did he.  Until he heard a noise on the other side of his house, the roadside.  His community, comprising his neighbours and total strangers, had come to lend a hand.  They each collected something from the house and took it to a local pub, many doing several journeys, to save the belongings of the man and his family.  Cynics might ask “what went missing?”  His answer – not a thing.  Not a coaster.  Not a flake of pot pourri.  When the situation had plunged into chaos, intrinsic engineering kicked in. 

I’m not one to jump on a bandwagon of emotion, but you have to take a few lessons from the recent passing of Nelson Mandela.  One lesson might be: don’t sit too closely to a strangely attractive Scandinavian politician.  However, I would rather hope that the lesson comes not from his death but from his life.

Having served 26 years in prison incarcerated at the behest of a racist regime for crimes that should not exist, he was released to great pomp and ceremony.  A celebrated figure, it was little wonder that he quickly headed into public service.  At his inauguration as president, he had the world at his command, and the guest list was the talk of the globe.  It was to be the most widely anticipated event since the queen’s coronation, or the reforming of Take That.  So who would he invite?

Other members of his party? Of course.  His supports?  Naturally.  Other African and World leaders? Without question.  His jailor?  Yes. 

That’s right: his jailor.  James Gregory oversaw the custody of Nelson Mandela for over two decades.  Far from it being a relationship of hate, borne of a power struggle , it became the epitome of a story of friendship borne of adversity.  Intrinsic engineering. 

I hope I have gone some way to convincing you that I am not merely some film-buff-sentimentalist, and that my argument carries some weight.  I genuinely and deeply believe in the power of the human race to effect good, even when some of our member may act to the contrary.  Furthermore, it is at exactly this time of year that we notice, appreciate and celebrate our intrinsic engineering, our pre-wired instinct to do good, on many fronts.

Still unconvinced?  Allow me to mention one more element. 

Whatever the true and deep nature of your religious persuasion and beliefs, surely a simple re-examination of the nativity, in whatever credo, would stand the test of this thesis.  Look at the evidence.

Joseph is engaged to a woman who is supposed to be pure, but he then discovers she is with child.  He has every right to jilt her, every right in fact, under Hebrew law, to see her punished.  Yet he does not.  When the census is announced, he fulfils his obligations, despite the protestations of others, and acts with decency and care.  Intrinsic engineering takes over.

Whatever possessed them we do not know, and shall never know.  Perhaps that is more romantic.  However, something convinced one business man or woman, one hotelier, to throw aside all convention and offer up his stable for human habitation.  After all, even the meanest heart has a rethink when he sees a pregnant woman.  Entrepreneurialism or intrinsic engineering?  You know my thinking.

On the birth of this baby, he is attended by the richest and most knowledgeable men imaginable, and the lowest social class in the entire continental region.  Does one spurn and mock the other?  Is there social warfare, snobbery or spite?  No.  Rich and poor alike may share this moment, because they know it is right to do so.  Intrinsic engineering. 

At times of great sadness, at times of despair, at times of need, even in times of rapture, our intrinsic engineering makes us what we are.

I hope in years to come, when my son is asked the question What was your first record?”, he will answer not with some of the bilge he has tortured us with, but will answer Band Aid 20.  He probably won’t, as he didn’t buy it. I bought it for him, 6 weeks before his birth.  I wrapped it for him, before he was born, and his Mum opened it, and we listened to it together.  Sentimental?  Of course.  Yet I really wanted my son to be born to the power of positive messages, and the human race putting aside their differences to attempt to do good has to be one of our most positive. 

Intrinsic engineering isn’t just our DNA; it’s our privilege, and aren’t we lucky?

As in other years, I shall conclude by apologising for any offence caused (although this year, I feel that - Colin Firth aside - I’ve been non-controversial), and I wish you and yours nothing but the most special of Christmases, and a healthy and happy 2014, during which, I have no doubt, our intrinsic engineering will continue to make our world the place we all know it can be.

For 2013, that is all.