There's always a lot of stuff going on inside my head at the same time, at various levels of superficiality and various degrees of focus. I would quite fancy some chocolate fudge. The clouds seem to be lightening, so perhaps I could get my camera out in a while. My hands are looking kind of wrinkly on the keyboard and I must change my hand cream. I miss my boyfriend. I'm trying to remember some lines from a mid period Ciaran Carson poem. And there's a level at which I'm removed from and aware of all of those thoughts and feelings, while still experiencing each of them with all their nuances and details.
I tend to imagine that this is a uniquely twenty-first century type of consciousness, reflecting our sophistication and intelligence. In years past, I imagine that people were simpler creatures with less highly developed thought processes, probably more easily pleased, but less delicately attuned to shades of meaning. Less aware of the idiosyncrasies of their own psyches.
I ask my mum and dad, with whom I'm currently staying, what they think - not that they are unsophisticated creatures from centuries gone by. They think I'm wrong. The Psalms, Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson are the work of people whose minds seem considerably more complex and multifaceted than my own. And there must have been innumerable others who thought in similar ways but didn't have the means of communicating to readers from the future. Ok, they are right. That wasn't a very long argument.
But I think I may still be right about people from the past being more easily pleased, in a good way.
At Christmas, I love re-reading my granny's account of a girlhood Christmas in Ardara, County Donegal, around 1910...
Every winter there was a tea-meeting otherwise Social, in connection with the church & at Xmas an Xmas tree from which every member present received a gift. Every gift was numbered and numbers were distributed to each person & there was much applause when some stalwart fisherman received a toy horse & cart or perhaps a string of beads.
In due time we reached our destination. Our host & hostess greeted us with the local “You’re welcome down the Point” & when we had removed our outer garments we were ushered into the best parlour where the table was spread for dinner & in relays up to fifty people sat down to a sumptuous feast. My eyes often strayed to a corner of the room where in a glass case stood a doll two feet high, most beautifully dressed, holding in her arms a smaller one. A present from America it was considered much too good to be played with & so the little ones could only stand & gaze instead of having the joy of fondling it.
When all had feasted, the table was finally cleared, the final washing was done & the women folk brought out their sprigging & Irish crochet work & a concert was begun. There was no musical instrument, but someone sang, another recited, another gave a reading, Stories were told until the midnight hour drew nigh when a cup of tea was passed round, the minister conducted family worship & we said good night & now with a change of coachman & horse we were driven back five miles and returned safely to the manse.
The excitement and joy of this occasion always impresses me. It might still be an adventure for a child today, but I suspect that it wouldn't be remembered for so long and with quite such fond happiness.
I think that we're harder to impress today, less open to a sense of wonder, cooler, in a bad way.
On Christmas Eve I spent several hours in my favourite cathedral, Ely. I love it, and I always find some new detail or view to delight me. But I imagine that, to an ordinary person from the eighteenth or sixteenth or thirteenth century, this building would have been the most amazing and wonderful thing they'd ever seen. The joyful decorations and celebrations of Christmas Eve there would have been unforgettable.
I wish I could see it through their eyes for even a moment. Feel a little more uncomplicated joy.