• Brian Mountford

Holiday and the numbing of the mind

Just returned from North East Spain having battled with the robotic mechanisms of mass tourism. At Girona Airport, the car hire executive was 'unable' to accept my debit card to guarantee an insurance excess and insisted upon a credit card which I didn't have. Therefore I had to buy another insurance policy from him which carried no excess. However he was able to use my debit card to pay for a tank of petrol which, if returned full, would be reimbursed to my account. What difference? When I discovered that my paperwork stated that I would return the car at 10am rather than the 2pm which would fit in with my flight, it proved impossible to change. The executive had no powers of that nature. The faceless agency in the worldwide web could only make such a change at a fee greater than the hire had cost in the first place.

Is this connected with the fact that I find it so difficult to think when I'm away? Do I become de-personalised, separated from my intellect which, like the car hire company, is somehow quarantined from reality out in the ether? I had taken a book manuscript with me, but couldn't bring myself to revise it. Instead I grappled fitfully with a novel, 'Small Island' about racial prejudice in England immediately after the Second World War and when that didn't really do it for me I came across Howard Jacobson's first novel-like offering, 'From Behind', in the bookshelf of the villa where we stayed. This is a diverting and hilarious campus-romp from the 1980's satirising the English Literature I read when a student.

Salvation of a kind came from my old mate Tim Blanning's 'Short Oxford History of Europe - The Nineteenth Century' and an essay on culture in that volume by James J Sheehan which beautifully reveals how the religious angst of the present day, which I write about, was worked through with passion during that century; how religion was challenged by secularisation, science, history, and systems - by which he means 'unified views of the world'. According to Compte: 'first theological and magical, then metaphysical and philosopical, finally scientific and rational.'

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