View from the Bridge: 64

by John Morrison


64: Wise Women

When Willow Willow switches on her radio to enjoy some soothing music - it's Dolphin Hour on Crystal FM (or maybe it's Crystal Hour on Dolphin FM) - she finds it's tuned to the news instead. She listens for a minute, with her hand on the dial, idly reflecting when she'd last heard the words 'oral sex' and 'Oval Office' in the same sentence. She's startled to hear that, according to a recent poll, ninety per cent of American women have said they wouldn't dream of giving Bill Clinton a blowjob... ever again. What's going on, she wonders?

It always comes as quite a surprise to Willow Woman to realise that there is more happening in the world than exists inside her own head. With a wave of her hand - a delightfully soft hand, a hand unchapped by housework - she can brush the world and its worries away like a tiresome fly. It's easy... well, it's easy if you're Willow Woman, and you're more than usually self-engrossed. She's getting a little tense in the run-up to the millennium: with Venus is in the ascendant, and Phallus rising, she's got a lot to think about.

She's not alone; Milltown is chock full of Wise Women who claim special insights, based on the interpretation of signs, portents and premonitions. Of genuine powers there seems to be more hints than evidence: just a meaningful tap on the nose here, a knowing smile there. Yet it would take someone bolder than Wounded Man to suggest that these powers of clairvoyance might be subjected to a little objective scrutiny. Predicting the winner of the 2.30 at Kempton would make a convincing start.

You can press Willow Woman on the matter and wonder what she can foresee, and she'll say, with that little smile and one raised eyebrow: "Well, I knew you were going to say that ". You could rise to the bait, but what would be the point? If you wanted a life filled with logic and rationality, then why the hell did you move to Milltown in the first place? The Wise Women of Milltown occupy a land beyond parody: a place where words can mean exactly what they want them to mean. It's beguiling, in that Alice in Wonderland kind of way, to put common sense to one side for a while and lose yourself in their impenetrable psychobabble. You won't be short of company.

Willow Woman's faith in intangible forces extends to her car: one of those 'half-timbered' Morris Travellers that looks like Anne Hathaway's Cottage on wheels. It's knackered, basically. When the car salesman saw her coming, he knew his monthly sales bonus was in the bag. He, too, has special insights: he can spot a soft touch a mile away. Willow Woman's body language - her aura, if you will - seemed to be suggesting: "I've had my frontal lobes removed and I've got a Barclaycard".

She doesn't know why her car goes, and she doesn't know why it stops. It seems to run on the motive power of pleas and prayers. Instead of stopping to fill up with petrol she tries, through the power of psychokinesis alone, to persuade the needle on the petrol gauge to creep out of the red. It means she misses a lot of appointments, sometimes by a matter of days.

A lot of people in Milltown share Willow Woman's ambivalent attitude to cars. We don't really approve of them: if more people could be persuaded to give up their noisy, smelly, environmentally unsound vehicles... then there'd be more room on the roads for us .

To emphasise our distaste for the internal combustion engine, we take a perverse pride in knowing as little as possible about what goes on under the bonnet. With the result that the local garage has a regular throughput of cherished - but determinedly unmaintained - bangers to sort out. When our clapped-out cars quietly expire at the side of the road, due to lack of petrol, oil or water, we are stymied. We'll open up the car bonnet and give the engine a long hard stare, to try and shame it back to life. We're prepared to get our hands dirty, but if cleaning out the ash-trays doesn't bring a reluctant engine spluttering back into life, what then? It's at times like this that we wish we could number more car mechanics in our circle of friends, and fewer Reichian therapists.

Mr Smallholder, conversely, likes to have a car that reflects his position and social aspirations. For a man of means it's an easier option than going to the trouble of developing something more useful... like a personality. He'll rhapsodise about the gearbox of his latest motor ("It's sooo smooth... like pulling a greasy stick out of a dog's bottom") or the pleasures of sending small mammals to meet their maker with just a light, last-minute touch on the power steering.

His main criterion, when considering a new car, is whether the lower orders could afford this particular model. "After all", says Mr Smallholder, feeling he is on safe ground, "it's not as if the poor breathe the same air as we do, is it?". "Actually", suggests the salesman in the showroom, "I think you'll find that they do". "But that's just a figure of speech, a metaphor". "No, I promise you, sir: the poor really do breathe exactly the same air as as we do". "Well, I'll be damned...", says Mr Smallholder, with purse-lipped annoyance, while making a mental note to buy his next car elsewhere.

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