Ming Dynasty


Charles Middleton as Ming the Merciless

Wisdom is a lot like mud; the longer you’ve spent wading through it, the more of it sticks. The result isn’t always pretty, but undeniably it’s useful – if not always convenient. One of the great pieces of wisdom I’ve managed to snag along the way is that madness is whatever you make of it. When I was seven madness manifested in an event as inconsequential as me digging a small hole in the wall next to my bed because I was bored at having to turn in so early (often while it was still light – which seemed utterly mad to me then, and perhaps even now). When I say “small hole” I mean small – scarcely larger than the width of a thumb. It wasn’t something anyone was going to be able to climb through. It certainly wasn’t going to aid my escape from having an early night. On that basis it was completely mad.

During that same era, for reasons that pass understanding today, my boredom led me to believe that walking up and down on the inside ledge of my bedroom window was preferable to staying in bed. The flaw in that thinking became apparent very quickly when I was seen by some other local children whose curfew wasn’t nearly as early as mine. Needless to add, they were enormously curious to find out from me later what I thought I’d been doing. I’m not sure I really knew myself. Whenever a vacuum exists, we want to fill it with something, even if it’s something idiotic. I found I had time on my hands, and walking up and down on a windowsill seemed like an infinitely better option that lying in bed staring at the ceiling or digging at the wall with my thumb. If I’m reflective and honest about it, there probably wasn’t much that was more idiotic than me as a seven-year-old. Some would argue that hasn’t really changed. I’m in no position to comment.

With age our scope for action increases and more possibilities open up to us. When that happens the ceiling for madness elevates. Now that I’ve managed to accumulate decades of experience, I’ve discovered that effectively the ceiling is so high it’s gone. There’s no longer any upper limit to my madness. This is liberation of a sort, although like most liberations, it comes with costs and responsibilities of it’s own. I’ve discovered that, as with propaganda, you should never mistake your madness for the truth. It can be a means to an end such as attracting attention, or a fast track to a locked basement. In the case of propaganda it’s natural destination is Nuremberg and 700,000 Nazis. Take your choice. I’ve never been good with crowds.

Some men are born mad, some men achieve madness, and some men have madness thrust upon them. In my case I’ve taken the less trodden route that bypasses all three of those options. Instead I’ve actually gone off in search of madness as a form of recreation. To put that in perspective, I’ve been seeking the very thing that a lot of people pay psychiatrists an awful lot of money to be free of. What fool said I wasn’t perverse? The fact is, when madness is a fundamental part of your nature, your options are limited. What else can you do but learn to love it?

For me, madness is turning out to be a bit like a good fairground ride. It’s not exactly what I expected when I coughed up the money for a ticket, but my brains are scrambled now because of too many high G-force years spent enjoying it. I’ve achieved a sort of equilibrium. There are people who seek out the assistance of drugs dealers to be addled like this. I just buckle-up and enjoy it without all of the inherent risks and costs of a cocaine habit and bad company. With this acceptance has come a tremendous sense of freedom. Generally it’s a freedom from the need to feel liked. I started out with a high baseline in that regard anyway. My contempt for anything to do with the neediness of social media and the “like me” generation is already taken as read by anyone who’s known me for more than about 25 minutes. I’m not shy about it.

One of the pivotal advances we’ve made as we’ve evolved has been to develop a process for creating mental avatars of ourselves, and then projecting them into imagined futures as a form of thought experiment or simulation. It’s the technique we use to try to work out when something is a viable option or not, based on the evidence and experience we have available. I’ve begun taking this to an extreme by imagining parallel universe alternatives to the world we live in today. It’s been a salutary lesson in what happens when anyone is burdened with omnidirectional grievances and too much time on their hands.

My thought experiment postulated what it would be like if Ming the Merciless came to earth and set up a regional palace in Battersea Park Station. I’d like to think this was triggered by the ideas I’ve absorbed through the work of Edward de Bono (he created the term “lateral thinking”. He has been teaching people thinking as a skill for over half a century). De Bono has warned that we become trapped in “tramlines” of thinking, and need something abrupt to “jolt” us off those tramlines along a new path we couldn’t have seen previously. Ming certainly fulfills all the requirements of a jolt. That’s one of the useful side-effects of being an alien tyrant.

With Ming living at Battersea Park Station there’s so much to consider. Immediately it changes the transport map into and out of Victoria and Clapham Junction. It’s hard to imagine there wouldn’t be some sort of disruption (and probably no compensation for it). Would Ming insist on taking over the Southern Rail franchise? Would he re-brand it with his own house colours and a suitably austere name? Whatever the outcome, anyone with a season ticket is going to be looking at considerably more than an inflation-plus 10 percent fares increase. Enjoy.

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