I should say straight away that my reaction to this question is an instant, and indignant, “No!” – but then it would be, because I am a romantic. I am a hopeless romantic; not so much in the sense of dreaming I’m going to meet Mr Right (although I wouldn’t complain at all if I were to bump into him some sunny day, at the London Wetland Centre, say!) as in the sense that I am determined never to become hardened inside into a complete cynic.
I still believe in human nature, and the human capacity to choose to do good, to be kind, show hope and compassion and put the past behind one. I still believe in love, friendship and loyalty. I do not think we are all going to the dogs; and I am depressed by those who do.
If we were all going to the dogs, and the world were really nothing but a bottomless pit, where the wisest seals gambol in piles of sh*t, as Alfred de Musset put it so charmingly (okay, I’m both translating and paraphrasing there, but you get the idea), then John McCarthy, Terry Waite, Terry Anderson and Brian Keenan would all have died in captivity - and Nelson Mandela too, for that matter. The Good Friday Agreement would never have been signed. The Old City of Dubrovnik and the Great Bridge at Mostar would still lie in ruins. God knows the world is imperfect, and human character desperately flawed, but good things do happen, and to ignore them or dismiss them as inconsequential is bitterly cynical, and fundamentally false.
Life is too complicated for everything to be terrible, after all. “It’s all going to the dogs” is just as much of a crude oversimplification as “Everything’s good and everyone’s happy!”
I’m prompted to these rather banal reflections by my enjoyment of a new television series called “Eternal Law”. It’s a fantasy, and it is profoundly romantic. The premise, at least as explained so far, is that angels are being sent down to earth, all the time; they take human form and try to help humankind at times of personal need. The main focus of the series is on two angels who have become lawyers in York, and the people they encounter through their work. The cast is excellent, the story arc is batty but interesting, there is a basic internal logic (most of the time, at least) and a complicated but touching love story going on; and the ancient city of York is beautiful.
The TV critics have mostly hated it, right from the outset. I don’t think they can handle its complete lack of cynicism. The only character they all like is the unpleasant one; yet I’m sure none of them would like him if they met him in real life – he’s a bastard. It’s a very clever piece of acting, true, but dear me, give me the angels any day! The actors playing them (Ukweli Roach and the ever-watchable Sam West) are also both giving very good performances, and in much trickier roles – making virtue interesting cannot be easy, much less a character who wants to rebel and indulge himself and chooses not to do so - because he believes it would be wrong. Good grief, he's got morals, no less...
Mind you, they do indulge a bit; it appears that angels are immune to the ill-effects of drinking and smoking, and our two heroes drink like fish and smoke like smouldering banksias. On top of York Minster, no less.
Given that this is written by the team who came up with “Life on Mars” and “Ashes to Ashes”, both of which sprang the odd twist on us, the eager viewers, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if things didn’t take the odd twist here, too. I have some theories, which range from the tear-jerkingly soppy to the unsettlingly cynical (I’m not immune, I’m only human!). But I’m enjoying it far too much to do anything but wait and see what happens. And thank the gods that someone is prepared to make, and some other someones are prepared to act in, a story this romantic.
Okay - now I'm off to have supper with friends; to lament our woes, celebrate our joys, plan creative activities, and drink too much. But not on top of York Minster.