On The Busie Old Fool

I was casting around in my head to find a topic for today’s essay, but it was difficult to think straight because of that confounded sun. Usually, gazing vacantly out of the window works a treat, but how can a man gaze out of the window into the awful glare of relentless battering sunlight? I have always been perplexed by its popularity. Blindingly bright and ridiculously hot, the sun is better considered as John Donne’s busie old fool. It has long been my contention that the reason the Middle East is a powder keg of demented Islamist nutcases has more to do with climate than religion. They all get so frenzied and bad-tempered and psychotic because of the sunlight and the heat. In this weather, I might well be tempted to fire round after round from a Kalashnikov into the air, had I a Kalashnikov.

Normally, at such times, my thoughts turn easily to a different sort of madness brought on by the sun. As an Aztec fundamentalist, I mourn the passing of the practice of human sacrifice designed to assuage the anger of the Sun God. But those were simpler times, I suppose. Nowadays one would probably need to apply for a permit from the council just to set up a stone altar upon which to splay one’s victims out, preparatory to gouging them open and wrenching out their still-beating hearts. There would be paperwork, risk assessments, equalities monitoring forms. Who would have the energy to tackle all that bureaucracy while the sun beats down so?

Instead, mopping my brow, I thought instead, as I so rarely do, of Rod McKuen. His “Seasons In The Sun”, adapted from Jacques Brel, seems to me a very foolish response to sunlight. “We had joy, we had fun”? Really? As my friend Robert Matthews said so pertinently more than thirty years ago, “You have to define fun, or you will have none”. Rod McKuen signally fails to define the fun he thinks he was having in his seasons in the sun. If he came right out and said he was tearing out the hearts of sacrificial victims splayed on a stone altar, and that he had fun doing so, then fair play to Rod. But he doesn’t. I think we have to agree with Nora Ephron, who said his verse was “superficial and platitudinous and frequently silly”, and with Karl Shapiro, who pronounced magisterially “it is irrelevant to speak of McKuen as a poet”.

Incidentally, and while we are speaking of both risk assessments and Rod McKuen, I can reveal that I was taken to see the mawkish troubadour, performing at the Royal Albert Hall, when I was but young. I was taken either by my father or by one of my older sisters. So far as I know, whichever one took me was never charged in a court of law with imperilling the sensibilities of a still formative juvenile mind. Had a proper risk assessment been carried out, surely the doors would have been barred against me? In the event, we must all count ourselves fortunate that I was not permanently scarred by the experience. A Rod McKuenised version of Hooting Yard simply doesn’t bear thinking about.

Back in the present, it was not so much a season in the sun as a morning spent avoiding the busie old fool. I pondered the idea of donning a yellow polo neck sweater and sculpting my grey mop into a magnificent bouffant, pretending to be Christopher Lee and going to find a virgin police officer to set fire to. Not quite Aztec sun worship, but it would pass the time. Then I had a stomach-churning vision of Nicolas Cage in The Wicker Man remake and had to lie down with a cold compress on my forehead. I was only revived when I pondered the idea of Nicolas Cage starring as Rod McKuen in a biopic of the latter. If this film is not yet in production then it damned well ought to be. It would make a fitting addition to the Cage canon. There could even be a scene set in an inaccurately rendered mockup of the Royal Albert Hall, where Cage/McKuen croaks his winsome piffle and we see, sitting in the audience, Mr Key as a tiny. The youngster chosen to play me would have to be able to express a subtle range of reactions, somehow suggesting that the titanic grandeur of Hooting Yard is nascent within his cranium, imperilled by McKuen yet resisting an awful descent into superficiality, platitudes, and silliness. Perhaps I ought to set to work on the screenplay.

I wrung out the no longer cold compress and decided to go for a walk around Nameless Pond. As far as I am aware I do not yet need a council permit to do so, and it was simply a matter of preparing myself against the sun’s onslaught. The busie old fool was still high in the sky, blistering hot, bright and golden, and deeply irritating. I fashioned a protective shroud and stepped out of the door.

I had not gone ten paces when I was set upon by a whirling gaggle of urchins, who pelted me with birds’ eggs and thrashed me with nettles.

“What what what?” I cried, “Unhand me, teeming urchins!”

I was tempted to add “Get back to your tenements!”, as if I were Keith Pratt, but something about my assailants gave me pause. They did not seem like the usual rampaging members of what used to be called, in less queasy times, the lower orders. My intuitions were confirmed when one of them stood forward from the pack. I could not help noticing that he wore atop his bonce a crown of golden cardboard, upon which the sunlight was reflected, blindingly.

“We shall continue to pelt you with birds’ eggs and thrash you with nettles until you attach to your frankly weird shroud a sprig of shick-shack,” said the urchin.

“I beg your pardon?”, I said, shielding my eyes from the horrid glare of the sunlight.

“It is Oak Apple Day,” he said, When we commemorate the Restoration of 1660. All hail Charles II, the true Sun King!”

And they pelted me with birds’ eggs and thrashed me with nettles until I retreated indoors, where I rummaged about in a drawer for a sprig of oak apple. O! how I wished I had instead that Kalashnikov.

3 thoughts on “On The Busie Old Fool

  1. I’m tempted to agree with the comments re. extremeism and climate. Its hotter than hades here in VA most of the time and it seems to me we do produce some of the most extreme anti-islamicists I’ve ever come across. To judge by off hand comments and ‘witty’ bumper stickers. And there are plenty of Kalashnikkovs and their home grown semi-automatic eqivalents. Most fireworks are illegal here so most holidays are celebrated by, yes , the discharging of live ammo into the air.Well, Catherine wheels are so dangerous!

  2. ‘A Rod McKuenised version of Hooting Yard simply doesn’t bear thinking about’

    At least he’s easier to anagrammatise than Jacques Brel.

    Mocked Urn, Crude Monk
    Drone Muck, Come Drunk

    etc etc

  3. I am lost for words at the viciousness concerning the now late Rod McKuen, I write this May 26, 15. Are you too stupid to realize it does not matter what critics thought about him, the public loved him in their millions and that is all that matters. Rod achieved so very much in his life, I should imagine you have achieved very little, if anything. As for The Royal Albert Hall performance you refer to its probably the one I attended and you were without doubt the annoyance we could hear. Finally, may I add, Rod was an utter Gentleman in every sense of the word, you on the other hand I am too polite to say what you are.

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