Thursday, December 10, 2009

Pilgrim's Progress

By John Bunyan
(Medieval Visionary Poem)

JAMES says:

(in the style of the work)

And so I had this really freaky dream, right, about this guy, right, this guy called CHRISTIAN, and he was really bummed out. He dwelt in the town of Despair, and house prices were just plummeting. There was also quite a bad write-up of the place in the ‘Let’s Move to...’ section of the Guardian Magazine. He tried to talk to his wife and children about it but they, like, totally didn’t get him AT ALL. Then one day there was a ring on the door-bell. And there stood GOD-BOTHERER.

GOD-BOTHERER: Why so glum, chum?

CHRISTIAN: I don’t know, I sometimes feel, like, what’s it all about?

GOD-BOTHERER (Spotting weakness): Well, that’s because you dwell in this crappy place. Over yonder metaphorical hill there is a wonderful city with excellent amenities, a thriving cultural scene and a tram system. Also, the grass is much greener than the rubbish grass here. It is called Croydon.

CHRISTIAN: How do you know of this fabulous place?

GOD-BOTHERER: It is all written down here, in this pamphlet published by the Croydon tourism board. So therefore it must be true.

CHRISTIAN: And can I reach it?

GOD-BOTHERER: Of course, the way is open to every man with an all zone travel card. But be warned, though many set out for Croydon but few can resist the temptations of the way.

So CHRISTIAN ran in great delight to his wife and children and said to them “Rejoice, for we are to travel to Croydon!” At this they were much surprised and his wife queried the wisdom of such a move, especially as her job and all her friends were in Despair. And CHRISTIAN tried to explain how meaningless such things were next to the glory of Croydon, but they just wouldn’t listen. So he packed a suitcase, told them he was going out for cigarettes, and left.

As he set out on his journey CHRISTIAN was greeted by his friend GULLIBLE, who asked him where he journeyed.

CHRISTIAN: I am travelling to Croydon.

GULLIBLE: Is it nice?

CHRISTIAN: It has trams.

GULLIBLE: Can I come?

CHRISTIAN: I suppose so.

So together they travelled to the train station. And their hearts were gladdened when they saw that the next train to Croydon was in only 15 minutes. So they sat and waited, and the fifteen minutes came, and went, and the departures board didn’t update at all until, suddenly, their train was no longer on the departures board, and no announcement or nothing. At this point GULLIBLE got slightly narked and went home, and CHRISTIAN cursed him, and went to find a guard.

CHRISTIAN: What happened to the Croydon train? It just suddenly disappeared?

GUARD: Engineering works, I’m afraid sir. There are notices up. You’ll have to use the
Replacement Bus service.

So Christian went and found where the buses went from and got on the bus, and found a seat next to SLIGHTLY INSANE.

SLIGHTLY INSANE: Are you travelling to Croydon?

CHRISTIAN: Indeed I am.

SLIGHTLY INSANE: Do you mind if I keep you company, as I am also travelling there?

CHRISTIAN thought this was quite an odd thing to say, seeing as how everyone on the bus was going to Croydon, but he thought it would be nice to have some company, so he acquiesced.

SLIGHTLY INSANE: I think Croydon is going to be great. What are you looking forward to the most?

CHRISTIAN: The trams, definitely.

SLIGHTLY INSANE: Oh yes, me too. I think they will be lovely, all shiny and red.

CHRISTIAN: Excuse me, sir, but I think you will find that the trams are blue.

SLIGHTLY INSANE: Oh no, they’re definitely red.

CHRISTIAN: Look, it definitely says here in the ‘Visit Croydon’ brochure that they are red.

SLIGHTLY INSANE: No, that is a mistranslation of the original Dutch. It should definitely be Blue.

CHRISTIAN: No. You are wrong. And stupid. And I hate you.

SLIGHTLY INSANE: All right, no need to be a dick about it.

And he changed seats, whilst CHRISTIAN shouted “Red!” at him.

In a few hours the bus reached Slough, at which point the driver asked everyone to disembark. CHRISTIAN mentioned that the bus was supposed to be going to Croydon but the driver forcibly let it be known that this wasn’t his problem. So CHRISTIAN left the bus, and as he sat in despair he was approached by DIFFERENT BUT STILL EQUALLY VALID VIEWPOINT.


CHRISTIAN: I’m trying to get to Croydon, but the trains aren’t working.

DIFFERENT BUT STILL EQUALLY VALID VIEWPOINT: Well, why don’t you go to Reading instead?

CHRISTIAN: Do they have trams?

DIFFERENT BUT STILL EQUALLY VALID VIEWPOINT: No, but there is a big stone lion.



CHRISTIAN: Reeeeeallly?

So CHRISTIAN set off towards Reading, but as he was walking past a brothel, out came GOD-BOTHERER, looking quite shifty. He spied CHRISTIAN and called him over.

GOD-BOTHERER: Where are you going?


GOD-BOTHERER: Not Croydon?


GOD-BOTHERER: Because we talked about this, and I’m pretty sure we decided you should go to Croydon.

CHRISTIAN: I know, but...

GOD-BOTHERER: Besides, Reading is but an imperfect reflection of the majesty that is Croydon

CHRISTIAN: Have you been to Croydon then?

GOD-BOTHERER: No, the mayor of Croydon says my work here is too useful for me to go to Croydon yet.

CHRISTIAN: You’ve actually spoken to him? The mayor of Croydon?

GOD-BOTHERER: Not spoken, but he communicates to me all the time. Through the classified adverts in local newspapers. In code. He tells me I’m special.


GOD-BOTHERER: Now, go to Croydon or the Mayor will force me to stab you.

CHRISTIAN: Alright, alright, I’m going

So Christian braved the vagaries and uncertainties of the public transport system, and eventually had reached the foul city of London, where temptations are freely available. And as he was sitting on the underground railway, idly reading an advert for cheap international telephone calls again, he caught the eye of RICHARD DAWKINS, who was wearing a loud jumper.



RICHARD DAWKINS: I’m married to the bird from Dr Who, the one who was with Tom Baker, did you know that?

CHRISTIAN: I think I had heard that, yes.

RICHARD DAWKINS: So, where are you off to?


When he heard this, RICHARD DAWKINS punched CHRISTIAN in the face several times, knocking him to the ground. Then he proceeded to kick him repeatedly in the groin, before spitting on him and walking angrily off.

And then in my dream CHRISTIAN approached the great station of Victoria, where there were Deli de Frances and Burger Kings and all was rejoicing, as CHRISTIAN knew he was close to his goal. And as he waited there for his connection he saw JAMES, who was hanging around fulfilling a narrative purpose.

CHRISTIAN: This is great, isn’t it?

JAMES: Hmmm?

CHRISTIAN: I said, this is great isn’t it?

JAMES: The station?

CHRISTIAN: No, the fact that we’re so close to Croydon!

JAMES: Oh, you’re going to Croydon are you?

CHRISTIAN: Of course, that is where everyone should go, it’s obvious

JAMES: I think it’s far from obvious. Even accepting the fact that Croydon is obviously a clumsy metaphor for the Christian Heaven (and I could add, not much clumsier than in the actual work), you can’t present it as a rational choice. You have the right to believe what you want, of course, but your dogmatic certainty, backed up by personal interpretations of ambiguous texts and flawed reasoning, is deeply unbecoming. Don’t get me wrong, you have some lovely imagery, but like a lot of the bible that’s all it is. It’s poetry, and not matter how attractive poetry can never be a replacement for open-minded debate. Except for most of human history that is.

CHRISTIAN: ....Screw You.

Then he came to the platform, and asked the GUARD if this was where he should catch the train for Croydon.

GUARD: Dunno mate

CHRISTIAN: What do you mean?

GUARD: Well, there’s only one train that departs from here, everyone has to catch it, and
nobody knows where it goes because no one has ever come back. Some people think it goes to Croydon, others Brighton, it’s all guess work. If I were you I’d just enjoy the station while you’re here, get a paper, go to the pub, and don’t spend all your time worrying about where the train goes. When it’s time for you to find out, you’ll find out.

CHRISTIAN: Typical British Rail.

And then I dreamt that I was eating a giant marshmallow, and when I woke up my pillow was gone.


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