A kind friend has loaned us his studio in a narrow alley in the centre of a medieval town where houses cram together, attractive to look at but not easy to live in. Having been woken at 3am, I lay awake, trying to forget the powerful currents rippling my mind. For two night’s running the radio in a first floor apartment next door has drawn me from my dreams. OK, you could say, we are only here for ten days and he who might work unusual hours needs to unwind with his favourite all night radio discussion.
It is also a place with a night culture. The other neighbour’s shutters have just opened and it’s 11am. This woman who’d yesterday agreed that the 3am noise was unacceptable had last night woken us at 1.30am as she stood below our window chatting and laughing with a friend. The point is, it is me who needs to adjust - buy earplugs and sleep soundly. But his loud radio cuts through even these.
After fifteen minutes, I got up, put on my shorts and used a broom to gently tap on his shutters so as not to wake others. His immediate reaction was agression, he leaned out and shouted down at me. Ensuring my voice was calm, quiet, I implored he turn the sound down. He did, but it was still loud. I tapped again. He bellowed that he was going to ring the police. Softly, I asked for the sound to be lowered. He did, shouting abuse. His wife started calling, “Monsieur, monsieur!” Not wanting to get involved, I slinked off.
The day before, in the attractive square down the way, another woman looked sad, though the sun was bright and our discussion was light. She, like me, was visiting France but staying in another town. Then it came out. She was Jewish, her grandparents had fled the Nazis in 1940 and as we talked we touched on the current dangers of racism spreading. You might, as some in Britain’s Labour Party have, argue that Jews can’t forget, that that’s why they are constantly faced with discrimination. History continually proves that is a dark stance from which to start.
I once had a light argument with a highly intelligent friend about us all being the same where ever we are in the world. That’s a socialist/communist argument he was putting forward and mine was based on observation - that we aren’t. The mild discussion went on for more than two bottles of red and for more than two hours of time and we couldn’t agree, which in a sense leans towards proving my point.
At a time when we are overwhelmed by the multiplication of multiple mega-problems, you must believe that we can make a difference. Yes, we are ruining the Planet’s survival systems, every aspect of our lives, from plastics to pesticides to peer-pressure is hyped up. And this aggro factor is yet another danger. The world has shrunk so much that our little middle of the night arguments are a genuine threat to our survival.
So what’s this world-wide catastrophe of Global Warming and human interaction got to do with a man’s radio in the dead of night? Well, that’s what kept me awake. Today Trump, Boris, Putin and most powerful leaders are Nationalists. In a time when the Russians, Americans, Chinese, French and who knows who else, have battle-field nuclear weapons, this is a worry. Trump has stated he’s not averse to “Pushing the red button”, Putin is equally confident, having already tested his integrated weapons systems in Crimea and Syria. They represent the worst of the animal in us - dog eat dog.
That’s not to say my intelligent friend’s view was wrong. Indeed European thinking is aiming for equality. At base, we are all animal, so yes, we must be roughly the same. Indeed, my last two books hang on this premise. Yet animals of the same species adapt to their specific environments and change accordingly. Finches proved this to Darwin. Honouring Darwin in the fragility of the 21st Century, our vison ought to widen to include all creatures as equal, be they the night-owls of this town, the finches flying above it or the insects they eat and we accidentally stamp on.
This would enable us to reach towards harmony, rather than aggression and dominance, to adapt to the situation we now unwittingly find ourselves in and to find solutions together. Those finches, night-owls and insects, let alone the Boris’ of this world, would benefit. Don’t call the police, but try to find understanding, tolerance, empathy, which leads to solutions, and which is what that angry man did by turning down his radio. There we are, it works!