Thursday 15 February 2007

The Butcher's Shop

The butcher’s shop on my street has halal meat delivered twice a week, in a big white van tall enough to stand up inside. As I walk past, three or four men in blood-stained white aprons unhook whole carcasses, skinned and raw, and carry them over the pavement to the huge stainless steel worktops in a special room beside the shop, leaving ten or so at a time still swinging with the rocking of the van.

Because I don’t eat meat I don’t often have to deal with the sight of it raw, its bloody smell or its similarity in texture to parts of my own body. I am not often confronted with such graphic reminders of death, so this sudden proximity to so many large dead bodies has a capacity to shock me that is probably lost on most meat-eaters. Other passers-by show little interest in the meat deliveries and carry on walking, negotiating their way around the pallets of vegetables stacked up on the pavement at the front of the shop.


In the early stages of a change from democracy to brutal dictatorship, many ordinary people must feel deeply uneasy about what is done by authorities in their name, at least while the pretence is sustained that authority is still held in the name of a people. Those who are not directly persecuted themselves are not necessarily on the side of the oppressors, but while it remains possible to do so, people go on with life much as they always have. They shop, wash clothes, make dinner and go to bed each night much as they always have, and houses and trees stand where they have always stood, with familiar people and shops and schools where they have always been.

Even a familiar dread of the news reports, of the next government policy, the next initiative, the next prosecution, the next bout of mass hysteria can seem normal when our immediate surroundings are kept reasonably constant. A gradual deterioration is borne like this, living from one moment to the next, right up until the façade of denial is finally, irreversibly cracked. Then our horror is compounded by our knowledge that, while the massacres took place, while the gas chambers were filled, we ourselves were washing clothes and making dinner and creating a normality for ourselves, our fear and doubt squashed firmly to the back of our minds in order to concentrate on doing the washing-up.


So it is in my nightmare.
I know that somewhere in this country, out of my sight, this government on this soil tracks down people fleeing for their lives and sends them back to their deaths. I know that some of the weapons used to torture and kill people – for believing what I believe – are made and sold by my own country. They have nuclear warheads enough to kill us all many times over on submarines moored off the Scottish coast. And yet this knowledge lives most of the time on the very edge of my consciousness, as I go shopping and wash clothes and make dinner, much as I might in any other deteriorating situation, waiting for reality to bite.

In my dream I am walking along my street and everything is where it always is. The houses and trees stand where they always stand, with familiar people and shops and a familiar white van parked outside a familiar butcher’s shop. Three or four men in white aprons unhook whole carcasses, skinned and raw, and passers-by show no interest as they walk around the vegetable stalls on the pavement. And I see hair. The door of the white van is open, and on the carcasses swinging from the meat hooks I see human hair, human faces, human feet hanging six inches above the floor of the van.

For a moment the feeling of shock is disconnected, suspended without quite attaching to any meaning or consequence. Then cold realisation rushes through me, horrible clarity and fear and sickness, and I keep on walking around the vegetable stalls, normality forever shattered and in its place a trap.

Because I knew all along. I have known for a long time that they were killing people, I just never saw the bodies. And everyone around me, if they think about it at all, has accepted this as normal long ago. Some have had their own moment like this one but my horror is worthless now, coming so late. Human corpses have been incorporated into the unending pretence of normality, since after all it is such a small incremental change to the contents of the same white van that’s been delivering to the same butcher’s shop, on the same street with the same trees that have stood since anyone can remember.



Ralph Mills said...

A powerful and inspiring post. You are right of course. We/I go on pottering about, attempting to grow vegetables, exploring the Peak District, doing our various jobs, gossiping and laughing in the pub, engaged in all the minutiae of "normal" everyday life, while governments...not just despots or dictators but elected governments...busily erode our rights, drop bombs on innocent families, foment civil wars, sell us to big business and so on and so depressingly and frighteningly on! My veganism, my tiny efforts at activism, my splutterings about this and that, my feeble reduction of my carbon footprint, all fizzle like a damp match in darkness...while more people are murdered.

Well written!

acwo said...

Interesting blog, I like it :)
Keep it up.