Utopia 2184:
Chapter the Third

In Which the Saint and I
Leave the Country for a Town,
Breaking Bread in an English Home

As the sun sank still lower into the heavy haze - a haze, to our mutual joy, again quite sweet-smelling - the Saint remarked with seeming innocence: 'It gets a little cooler every decade, you must realize. Some day we'll have hops again, and English ale again, and the roses of York and Lancaster again, and the papaya will start in - ah - Calais.' I looked at the Saint a little sharply, wondering whether this remark really was entirely in order.

A 1974 SeaLink ferry as I finish off my backpack summer on the Continent, crossing to England, crossing to Auntie, to preparations for my first Michaelmas Term in College, my newly grown beard almost adequate. In a ferry lounge, a raucous English crowd, of the kind we associate with soccer, singing to the tune of 'My bonnie lies over the ocean': 'Shit-o, shit-o, and shit on the françois below, below ...' Happiness. London by mid-morning.

It was not fair even to hint that the wogs start at the French SeaLink terminal. Thus it was in a state of unease (the sun now a dim coppery ball on the gentle hills) that I beheld our destination. But soon I had my fears about my holy companion's attitude to things Continental laid to rest.

There, less than a kilometre ahead of us, loomed the flag-adorned gates of our destination town. It was, I decided at once, a most British sight. For the flags were faded, ragged. No other region, I thought with joy, could conceivably treat flags, those harbingers of all that is perilous in communal life, with such proper contempt.

Cornmarket, 1970s Oxford. Woolworth's. The Union Jack blithely flying above that emporium, night and day, summer and winter, faded to a pastel, ragged at its trailing edge, less flag than bedsheet. Marked down to clear, so to speak.

Television, 1980s. The Two Ronnies are paying musical tribute to the Royal Navy. The Two Ronnies in drag, as English aunties. Singing with the uniformed seamen such old favourites as 'What do You Do with a Shrunken Sailor?' The programme ends with a rousing 'Rule Britannia'. At the climax, the Two Ronnies drop their knickers, of Union Jack fabric.

And this, over the town gates, was not even the Union Jack, the flag of a rightly discredited empire, but only - oh joy! - the tattered, disintegrating Cross of Saint George. Evidently the United Kingdom was dissolved. I imagined, in my glee, the Cross of Saint Andrew now flying in a parallel state of salutary disintegration over the slowly cooling, slowly recovering Mediterranean steam-bath that must now be Aberdeen. Scotland living as Scotland once again.

O Flower of Scotland,
When will we see
Your like again,
That fought and died for
Your wee bit Hill and Glen,
And stood against him,
Proud Edward's Army,
And sent him homeward
Tae think again.

My best friend in 1980s Australia, a Ukrainian, proposing a ballad to fit a dark, or more accurately a sunnily stoic, streak in the Scottish political sensibility: 'Bonnie Cherlie's cut in twa ...'

The cheerfully stoic banner of Saint Andrew. Could I get to Scotland later? There would be at least sporadic slow trains from King's Cross, surely?

And now, as we approached, we saw beside the Cross of Saint George an equally tattered flag with the reticent stars of the European Union. This was the point at which the Saint, as I began to explain a moment ago, laid my fears to rest. For, reading my thoughts with his wonted urbanity, he remarked, 'Yes, in your Cold War, Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini, that is to say the Holy Father Paul VI, perceptively declared Benedict to be the patron of all Europe, patronus totius Europae. And the simple Europa flag is fitting indeed on so holy a day as Benedict's.'

Now the gates, with their attendant fortifications, were close enough for our inspection. The radar beacon sweeping the approaches was now rusted, as though decommissioned some generations ago and kept merely for decoration. Indeed, judging by the rust erupting from its white paint, the radar was now no more ceremoniously kept than those twin flags. Below the radar beacon, now rusted into a similar immobility, were a portcullis and a boom gate. These too, I decided, had not been closed against barbarian incursions for decades.

As my mind returned to the hot, passionate faces in the trading pit, I had a momentary vision of that black portcullis down once, that boom gate shut once, the armoured trucks of some petty warlord from 2080 or 2110 seeking to crash through. I envisaged AK-47s clattering over ravelin, glacis, and finally fosse, as black-clad men and women of the troubled decades chanted slogans, vainly imagining their still-mighty entrepreneurial town capable of permanently imposing its will through bullet and petrol bomb on pacifist, artisan Kent. The Saint was frowning now: 'Peace, you know, starts from within, and presupposes a certain discipline of the imagination.' In shame for my weakness, I bowed my head.

But now cobbles, more cobbles: we were over the boom-gate lintel, we were past the portcullis groove, we were in town!

I gazed in admiration on what had been achieved in just a few generations of - what? Of State socialism? Hardly. But something quite definite all the same, a kind of cooperative movement without central direction, a movement doing for such humble goods as groceries and clothes what Richard Stallman's Open Source advocates had in my own lifetime done for Unix.

Open Source, to start with, seemed alive and well. The Internet had evidently been brought back up, perhaps a couple of generations after the old infrastructure of routers and backbones died. Internet access points were now as common as fire hydrants and postboxes in my lifetime, with little public kiosks every few hundred metres. A cursory inspection of the nearest one revealed that anyone could read content on the 'Net, in something very like the Mozilla browser I remembered from Linux. The Saint assured me that content was, for the most part, free: not only free as in speech (this much they used to say in the Open Source movement, in my own day), but now even as in beer. In my day, the buzz phrase had been 'World Wide Web'. Now, however, people favoured 'World Wide Library', it being in this epoch common to publish entire books on servers.

More exotic to my twenty-first century eyes was a street of cobblers, evidently organized into a guild, with working hours and prices regulated, no cobbler in the guild by compulsion. Those who wished to trade competitively, setting their own prices so as to attain a maximum profit in place of a merely socially approved one, had no doubt set up shop in some Special Enterprise Zone. No advertising here, beyond a simple sign with the necessary technical specifications - 'Resoling, half soles, all materials, 24-hour turnaround, guild rates.'

Here, on the other hand, was a different mode of organization, a cooperative in the style of twentieth-century Antigonish or Mondragon, for book printing: 'Joskin, Capon-Brye, Balakrishnan, Families and Associates, Book Printers-on-Demand. All World Wide Library Open Titles; Consultant Brokers in Intellectual Property. Full members, Europa Drukverein. Corresponding members, Comité lyonnais pour matériaux imprimés.'

That rather opaque 'Intellectual Property', the Saint explained, simply referred to works from the diminishing entrepreneurial towns, whose authors continued to assert copyright. Copyright, a problematic concept in my own increasingly networked day, was an utter anachronism now, when the Internet was taken as much for granted as public sanitation. And when, moreover, a raucous legion of artisan pirates on every continent stood poised to download once and republish thousandfold, under cloak of anonymity, any materials put onto the Internet as pay-per-view from servers in the Special Enterprise Zones. Yet evidently many solid burghers wishing to read copyrighted materials would still, commendably, avoid the pirates, instead taking the trouble of paying reading fees through such literary brokers.

And hard by, yet a different kind of business, a simple partnership of craftspersons, not in a guild at all: 'Mahnoor, Mahnoor, Ul-Haq, and Mbamara-Söderholm. Fine Bindings. Now Accepting Artistic Commissions for October Delivery.' We gazed, delighted schoolboys both of us, much as we had gazed at the Dial, upon opulent Punjabi and Balukistani leathers, with hand-tooled gold and copper inlays. I must, I resolved, later seek out a Channel Port, see how they have arranged things in the Second Great Age of Sail, see what high-technology argosies reach England from points east of Suez.

To glance into a book on a screen cost nothing. One could do it while taking an evening's walk in the fresh air, let alone while while keyboarding at one's desk. No doubt one could likewise print, cheaply and nastily, in one's study, onto letter-sized sheets with some simple home-office machine. There was, on the other hand, more than a little vanity to be indulged in first commissioning printing with fine toners on full-sized watermarked rag-linen press sheets, at some such establishment as Joskin et al., then having sheets folded, edged, and bound at this exquisite little studio.

The Saint, naturally, answered my question before I could give it utterance. 'Well, you realize, authors do get a kind of royalty. There is no cachet in standing in the hot rain on some street corner, or even in sitting breezy and dry at home, reading Jane Doe from the Internet browser. There is, on the other hand, a little cachet in having Jane Doe printed off, then bound, for one's shelves, provided the printing and binding are of an - ah - elegance sufficiently exceeding what can be delivered by the home machine. It's like the restaurant trade of your lifetime. The omelette at your kitchen table was one thing, the wee little omelette aux fines herbes, in the Rive Gauche bistro, a different thing altogether, and well worth thirty-nine Euros ninety-nine, plus tax and gratuity.'

Strine and fine dining. Strine in Paris. When you speak Strine, how do you summon the garçon as you scan your stiff little menu card, the buttresses of Notre Dame your scenic backdrop? 'Oi [gesticulating, as at football]: oi, GARGOYLE ...'

'And,' continued the Saint gravely, 'there is enormous cachet in paying Jane Doe as a patron, having her electronically autograph your printed copy. For Jane Doe, if she's an author of wit or depth, is a celebrity. And celebrities will sell their digital autographs, and will proclaim over the Internet how many such sales they have made to their so-called 'literary patrons', and such patrons themselves will pay for being named explicitly in such proclamations - paying quietly conservative sums, of course, for tastefully reticent acknowledgements of patronage, but significantly larger sums for significantly more glowing encomia.'

As I digested this somewhat alarming assurance that book publishing was alive and well, the Saint turned our converse to other pillars of European civilization.

Organized religion flourished. Every few minutes in our perambulation revealed some temple, synagogue, mosque, or evangelical chapel; or, often as not, some busy little parish in full communion with Rome - now and again a 'St Barnabas Old Catholic', but very often a 'St Swithin-by-the-Gate New Catholic in the Anglican Rite'.

What, then, of pubs?

In a climate supporting papaya and sago, there could hardly be plausible ciders, let alone stouts or lagers. Evidently, on the other hand, rice wine was to be had from Kentish paddies, while a modest quantum of whites and reds was forthcoming from the greenhouse-epoch vineyards of Scotland and Norway. Consumption occurred as in my day, or the Saint's, at many a 'King's Arms' or 'Lamb and Flag'.

As ever, the pub signs betrayed a certain historical earnestness. In my own day, I recalled, such things as the escape of Charles II from the Roundheads had been commemorated in a terse iconography, say as the 'Royal Oak'. Would there now, perhaps, be some graceful tribute to the more recent troubles? And, yes, I found it, or rather the Saint found it for me, directing my gaze to the appropriate swinging board, one of several in a rather uproarious courtyard: the sign for 'Ye Traveller's Reste' showed a beaming, well-fed squire, from the era of commercial heavier-than-air aviation, tucking into a meal of meat and beer and potatoes, ensconced in the gorgeous throne that marked the Business Class of my day. Through porthole window, the artist showed sky, the leading edge of a wing, and an engine nacelle correctly emblazoned with the Rolls-Royce logo.

'How deep,' I asked, 'can the present moral reform be, if people are willing to spend a month's pay on a fine book binding, or to gush sentimentally over the bygone days of flight, or to urinate into Internet kiosks?' (This latter complaint was precipitated by my smelling an otherwise convenient cyber access point, as I strove on a whim to check evening headlines.)

'I think you'll find the magistrate gave that sozzled fishmonger the usual, and this month the all too common, penalty,' came the Saint's answer: 'three hours in the pillory under a webcam. A spectacle much appreciated by certain Vladivostok ladies, I gather, who sent him the most appalling mails. Personally, I used to say de minimis non curat lex, but, well, standards for pissing in the street have changed since my own time, as well you know.'

'But seriously,' I persisted, 'what is the depth of moral reform? I see signs of progress, no doubt; I see some backsliding, perhaps (I can't say I admire that World Wide Pillory); I find much - to take one instance, the substitution of vanity for avarice as the propulsive force of the book trade - that I scarce know whether to praise or damn. Has England moved, on the whole, forward?'

'Well, Englande is Merrie again,' came the suave reply.

'Seriously, though.'

'You must realize this notion of reform - so Victorian, so Edwardian - really is the most frightful piffle.'

'But,' said I, aiming in the jousting at what I knew full well must be a weak point in my debating opponent's armour, 'the Jesuits, who formally started up about five years after you got your, so to speak, chop, and were already taking their vow of chastity and poverty when you were in the Tower? Surely the Jesuits don't approve of the current merriment?' (I seemed to recall, from someone at our local Newman Centre who had been talking to someone who was liable to possess the inside scoop, that those Shock Troops had been one of the few intellectual forces preventing the Church from ripping itself asunder in a misguided panic reaction to the Enlightenment of the 1700s. I thus shrewdly conjectured that, history having even in its inexorable one-way linearity certain aspects of the pendulum, those same Shock Troops would in 2184 be working to counter excesses of a different kind.)

'Well, they're too busy converting America to bother with Merrie Englande just yet ...'

And at the very next free Internet kiosk, the Saint solemnly prodded a screen into revealing three Jesuits, under the stern tutelage of some latter-day Oprah Winfrey, dissecting the theological implications of this week's recapture, by some faction or other, of some significant city or other - Gettysburg, I think.

'Reformations and Counterreformations do rather come and go, you realize,' added the Saint. 'Especially over there.'

With that, it was time to dine. The object of this welcome exercise, my guide explained, was to show me life outside the public spaces, life within the protective ramparts of English domesticity. But he did so with the gentle warning that we now had scant time remaining in each other's company, and that our dinner must therefore be taken in haste.

So we proceeded through the open door of a terrace house from, perhaps, 1900 or 1930, well enough maintained, even mildly gentrified. There was a quiet welcome, hardly more than a familiar and kindly nod, from the assembled company. 'They see us and yet do not see us,' said my holy guide, 'for we are their past, and while there is an absolute truth in history, that truth is in this life seen at best only through a glass, darkly.' He waited for me to reply, to assure him that I had grasped his meaning. 'A truth you, then,' said I, 'know now, and which one day with God's grace I shall know even as in the sight of heaven I am known.' We raised our long-stemmed glasses (for we had joined the dinner company around an old oak buffet, laden with simple food and drink) , in silent cheer. Then we stood and listened.

Apart from ourselves, there were seven.

First, the rather dreamy master of the house, Myles, a sixtyish observatory technician. In radio, not optical. Working in New Cambridge just outside Ely, but arrived home by bicycle for a short holiday, amid the heat and flickering plague of the University vacation. 'New' because twenty years ago the leaking of a concealed, long-forgotten munitions dump had suddenly turned the medieval city into Europe's hottest biohazard. The relocated Institute of Astronomy would even now occasionally venture into the silent old streets and courts, in hazmat suits, to bring out some vital logbook or instrument, for eventual disinfection under a barrage of soft X-rays.

Second, Preethi, spouse of Myles, and the real power in the land. Preethi, woman of action. Network administrator, working night shifts from one of the town's few artificially cooled rooms, right here, in the cellar, or rather in a specially constructed sub-sub-basement, far below the wine rack. Fifty-nine, hair pulled back into a severe bun, some liquid-crystal numerical or text display - some alarm poised to announce intrusion or CPU overheat - on every bracelet and bangle. Close colleagues in London, Frankfurt, Singapore, and the former American republics. Like most cyber careers, even in my own day, hers demanded but little travel.

Third, a rather distinguished family friend: austere, greying Sir James Wu, Member of Parliament in the Liberal-Democrat interest, in earlier life a barrister fine-tuning treaty arrangements with the Special Enterprise Zones. Visiting his constituency for the weekend, and ready to trundle into the capital on the 06:08 (British Summer Time), the first of two tiny daily passenger trains which were all the local economy could at present support.

Fourth and fifth, young Sam and Timmy, respectively a 'railway ceramicist' (this entailed, I gathered, a University specialization in materials science) and a windfarm welder. Sam the son of Myles and Preethi, Timmy the friend of Sam. Timmy and Sam, trim in beard and strong in limb, bronzed from hours of duty under a fiery sky. A little out of place under the feeble light-emitting diodes which were all a family of normal means could currently spare for illuminating a dining space. Countrymen, in town for the weekend.

Sixth and seventh, Mee Wun and Avivah, schoolgirls of fourteen and fifteen, orphaned early, like many in even their generation, but soon to become the wards of Sam and Timmy.

The dinner chat looped and swirled, as such chat does, giving the Saint and me ample opportunity to learn the concerns of this home.

Myles is, as usual, vexed by HD44594. Which one, I ask myself, is HD44594?

Annie Jump Cannon entered this life in 1863, departed it in 1941. Although she did all the work, her name didn't make it into the catalogue title. That honour went, rather, to Henry Draper: less professional astronomer, I guess, than chemist-spectroscopist; but filthy rich and, as was in those days convenient, a guy - in fact the very guy whose widow gave Harvard all the money in 1886. Money used by Annie's boss, a prof by the name of Pickering, to make Harvard pre-eminent in classifying stellar spectra.

Good to see New Cambridge using the legacy of Henry, or rather of Annie. Which one is HD44594? And why is it of interest for radio, as opposed to optical?

'...entirely deplorable new software from Tartu, as I was telling your Mum a moment ago.'

Tartu. Estonia's modest Cambridge, home in my day not to astronomy and computing alone, but also to semiotics - whatever it is, they invented it, in the depths of the Soviet occupation - and Fenno-Ugric philology.

My native language lacks the full glory of Finnish, but nevertheless enjoys a certain richness in syntax. No future tense at all. (Dinner tables in the West, in the era of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic: 'Ah yes, your language has no future tense: must be appropriate for a nation with no future. Ha, ha, ha.' - 'He, he, he: yes, very witty. Haven't heard that one before, no ma'am.')

But, in compensation, fourteen cases: nominative, genitive, partitive, illative, inessive, elative, allative, adessive, ablative, translative, essive, terminative, abessive, comitative. A language less rich than Finnish, but ornate all the same. Not bad in the Compound Word department - 'tagavararehepeksumasinateta' means 'without reserve threshing machines'.

'...solar analogue HD44594, clearly with a watery planet, planet clearly with artefactual signals, but really we know about as much now as when Uncle Sam was expecting NASA would help him militarize the sublunary realm.'

'... pity ...'

The Saint whispers in my ear in those all-but-inaudible tones counsel might use in explaining a confidential point to the client at the bail hearing, 'For the last six decades, they've had a couple of ETIs in their SETIs, but I don't know that it's been making them too terribly cheerful so far.'

I form first the faint suspicion, then the very definite suspicion, that here the Saint foresees a change in human affairs, something beyond the 'piffle' he has dismissed in the street. Something ultimately, perhaps, not unconnected with the 'end times' of the Gospels.

'Science moves, but slowly, slowly, creeping on from point to point?' I whisper brightly, quoting 'Locksley Hall', in the manner of the angler gently flicking the gaudy and ever-so-carefully-tied lure over the bottomless pool. To this bait he rises and does not rise, quoting back at me: 'Yet I doubt not thro' the ages one increasing purpose runs?'

And now Preethi, all bustle and practicality, retailing her current crisis to her impending granddaughters-by-adoption: such hopeless disruptions at the gateway machines amid this incessant turmoil - ripple effects from Gettysburg all along the Eastern Seaboard, the notorious oubliette.harvard.edu now not communicating with any English backbone, positively no Thoreau, not even the Mayflower Compact, available to any Kentish screen except in cache! But of course so glad none of this mayhem will delay their sunship tomorrow ...

- This, I gather, is a matter of a few hours' expensive flight to Beauvais, to the throb of the airscrews of some slow photovoltaic-panel dirigible, followed by a rather taxing bicycle journey into Paris. Both girls aspire to read Literae Humaniores at Oxford, and are already securing the necessary preparatory instruction from a private tutor with excellent Sorbonne connections, in return for cleaning and house-minding duties.

Sir James and Sam and Timmy are in a huddle. Sir James is happy, he says, to report that dinner with the Nuncio in Town Thursday night went rather well. (In Town, that is, not in town: they met at a discreet boîte just ten minutes' stroll from the House of Commons.) It seems he really has convinced the Nuncio that the case is watertight. So there should be no problem at all with the now-standard same-sex-chaste-union non-matrimonial blessing upon this most chaste union, and no problem at all in procuring the usual, elaborate, Letter of Indulgence conveying permission for the avowedly chaste to adopt children of a certain suitably mature age.

Educated British idiom possesses, it has been said, a certain absence of expression which is itself the perfect substitute for it. Such are the useful cadences the Saint selects, whispering more carefully than ever, as though to avoid attracting the unfavourable notice of some Bench: 'I understand they call Rome the "Eternal" City actually.' I whisper back with equal neutrality, as is expected in such exchanges, 'Yes I believe they do actually.'

Chastity. I have noticed more than once - admittedly in reading or conversation, not in my own limited personal experience - that men who love men can, if the mutual love is of a certain deep quality, pass into a stage where sexual relations are seen to be cheapening, where chastity is considered the uniquely adequate physical expression of the mutually experienced interior attitude.

Chastity. I have in my limited experience (now essentially confined to the writer's desk) found chastity comprehensible when I imaginatively contemplate it in others, perhaps especially in persons who have attained a heterosexual development. A fine 1990s film, Dead Man Walking, dramatized the pastoral work of Sister Helen Prejean with a man whom the Louisiana government had condemned to death by injection. Would the story line have been improved, I ask myself, had Hollywood inserted a romantic interest, as its screenwriters are wont to do? Perhaps by having the celluloid heroine fall in love with some cragged defense attorney, bringing her passion to ecstatic consummation in a motel room? Or, more delicately, by making her love a matter of the private imagination, of fantasy, with an ultimately triumphant sweaty private struggle to be "good"?

Chastity and goodness. The Cambridge moral philosopher Bernard Williams somewhere draws some such distinction as this one, that some people love goodness, while others (much, one would say, to be pitied) love being good. His is not, you must understand, the shopworn distinction between the love of goodness and the love of seeming good. He refers, subtly, to being, rather than to seeming. The love of virtue on the one hand, and on the other the love (not exactly of seeming, for who except the depraved crave that? but) of being virtuous.

Chastity. It has been suggested that as the biotechnology revolution gathers momentum in the twenty-first century, with progressively more radical laboratory and clinical interventions in the mechanics of human reproduction, the notion of a human way of living and being will itself be judged outmoded. The gruesome and demeaning suggestion is that biotechnology will render us reluctant to conceptualize the physicality of Homo sapiens as a distinctive element in the natural order, set over and against, say, the physicality of the orangutan, of the coyote, of the epiphyte, of the protozoan, of the computer.

Chastity. Pope John Paul II, opponent of artificial contraception, writes of a contemporary 'culture of death'.

Sam: 'Mee Wun, dear, tell Sir James about the essay you're taking to Monsieur Malouf-Pontin in Paris.'

Mee Wun: 'It's about the two nonviolent Resistances, which I set in the 1980s and the 2080s.'

One, then, the nonviolent resistance to Soviet rule, which succeeded in 1989, 1990, and 1991, where less peaceable efforts had proved sterile.

Estonia's experience was, perhaps, not atypical in Europe. In the 1940s and early 1950s, men fought, at the very first perhaps even in their thousands, but then in their hundreds, and in their diminishing and despairing dozens, as "Forest Brethren". There was an initial hope, of course fatuous, that Eisenhower would help, somehow. London broke off radio contact in 1958 or 1959 or thereabouts, finding it now quite impossible to determine which transmissions were emanating from authentic partisans, which from masquerading Reds. For the longer haul, pen, not sword. It was said in the bleak years: 'Don't think. If you think, don't write. If you write, don't sign. If you sign, don't be surprised.' And yet it was also said: 'Kirjutan sahtlisse' - 'I write into a drawer.' Thinking, and writing. So that when glasnost and perestroika made peaceful political action possible once more, people knew what to do.

Mee Wun describes the 1980s in a few sentences, mentions the samizdat furtively typed, the Voice of America heard in headphones.

Communism. The following gulag story was brought into print in those years by Ants Kippar of the Stockholm-based Relief Centre for Estonian Prisoners of Conscience. Cleaning day. Inmates, I presume serving the "five" part of their "five plus two". (Five years' camp, two of internal exile, was the rather normal thing if you signed what you wrote.) Under the supervision of the guards, they temporarily remove every movable piece of property from their barracks. The authorities have provided a vast boiling kettle or stewpot. To kill vermin, each of the assembled items gets dipped. One stool, another stool, is lowered into the heaving cauldron, is stirred, is removed. Splash, glunk, swish. The water is now a dark brown, a steaming cockroach soup. One item remains, the 'Loosung', or 'Slogan', a piece of plywood bearing the inscription 'Communism: Humanity's Bright Future.' It, too, makes its way down, with a splash, a glunk, a swish.

Communism. Ornithologist Mart Niklus started, in the Khrushchev era, by photographing this thing and that thing around Tartu - the feed for the pigs, the jamming towers for the Voice of America. He was in, out, in again. For a while we did not know, in the Relief Centre for Estonian Prisoners of Conscience, if he was alive or dead. Chemist Jüri Kukk, who had signed something petitioning for a new life in the West, had been killed in transit between islands in the great Arhipelag, perhaps choking during force-feeding. Dr Kukk had started by finding his membership in the CPUSSR, the Kompartei, uncongenial. What, then, of Dr Kukk's close political colleague Mart Niklus? Niklus, by now personally known to Prof. Andrei Sakharov! Niklus was alive. The Gorbachev years found him somewhere in the Permskaya Oblast gulag, far east of Estonia, objecting to this thing and that. They put him into the "Karistusisolaator", the "Punishment Isolator". The camp being an institute of political rehabilitation, he was permitted, within the Isolaator, to read one of the organs of Party doctrine, I presume either Pravda or Izvestia. The paper reported that Mart Niklus had been freed. Hey, look at this (calling a guard). Can't you let me out now? - No: we don't go by what gets printed in the paper.

Later, of course, it emerged that the State apparatus had short-circuited. They put Mr Niklus's dossier into order, escorted him to the gates. Out again, for good.

Communism. Estonian dealing with Estonian, at the start of the 1940s collectivization. Arvete õiendamine: the adjusting of accounts. My neighbour gets on too well, has (as it were) far too good a herd. And we remember (as it were) what he said at our wedding, what he said when Mikku tried shaking hands, at our wedding. We remember (as it were) also how he answered us later, when we said we had to borrow his cart, the summer the Germans came. We'll say something now, we'll have a word with the Party now.

Communism. A "radish" was a person who was red in externals.

Communism and the Dritte Reich. The swastika, it was thought in 1941, in 1942, in 1943, in 1944, offered the chance to fight communism. We'll fight in the Wehrmacht, we'll fight in the Waffen SS. Communism undid us in 1940 and 1941, will undo us again in 1945 and 1946. Let's get some communists now, while we can.

Dritte Reich. United States of America, Plaintiff, v. an individual I shall for delicacy call X.Y.Z., Defendant, No. 79 C 2966. United States District Court, E.D. New York. 1981 July 30. The most damaging section: 'In his capacity as an officer at the Tartu concentration camps, defendant wore the uniform of a Second Lieutenant or equivalent rank of the pre-1940 Estonian Army. He was armed with a pistol, which he carried to the aforesaid execution site, and from time to time fired that pistol at unarmed civilians in the course of their execution.' It has been remarked to me with a certain vigour that the United States District Court operated with a less stringent standard of evidence than is prescribed for criminal proceedings. The thesis, true as far as it goes, is that the hearing which led to X.Y.Z.'s USSR deportation (he died in confinement, with a somewhat unexpected and surprising diagnosis in the official medical paperwork, in Leningrad, in 1987) was not a criminal proceeding. But I add this: a member of the student organization to which X.Y.Z. belonged, and to which I also belong, pointed out to me, in writing, that he himself saw X.Y.Z. in the employ of the Tartu concentration camp. I add further: my organization, while expressing a certain displeasure, has not meted out formal discipline to me. My organization leaves me in peace, even though I herewith, in this very paragraph, write, and in essence sign. I never met X.Y.Z., but of course I've met dozens who knew him.

If granted life and strength, I intend later to work for the erection of a bronze plaque by my organization, commemorating victims of the 'aforesaid execution site', and I anticipate that I shall not be working alone.

Communism and resistance. 1990. So far has the régime now crumbled (the Berlin Wall came down some months ago) that it is not in the least vulgar for an exile Estonian to go home for a few days. On the deck of the Georg Ots from Helsinki, I for the first time see the Tallinn ramparts. Everyone carries in his or her cranium a small photo album. The pages of the album are no doubt liable to turn as the moment of biological death approaches, recalling one definitive scene, another definitive scene, from byegone decades. Tall, angry towers, then, looming large, no longer so far from the deck of the Georg Ots. Those towers were ancient when Thomas More had his trouble with Henry. I am 37. Later, walking and being driven, I note the ubiquity of forces. Guys in fine green uniforms, laundered, ironed. Two guys on this street, three guys on that street, everywhere. And on the country roads, their vehicles.

Estonia is in its the last communist year when I visit, though nobody knows that yet. A grandiose war memorial near the bombed-out ruins of Raadi Mõis, the manor house that in the interwar decades housed the National Museum. Russian names, not Estonian, names of troops who helped wrest Tartu from the control of the Dritte Reich as the 1944 summer ended.

At no great distance from that war memorial, a runway. Jets thunder up, jet after jet, the climbing fuselages far closer to inspection than they could be in the safety-conscious West. Aluminium city buses clawing their way into grey skies, so near by, like buses on any street.

Nobody explains those jets to me in technical terms. I, for my part, speculate that with the economy adrift that hungry 1990 summer - not even by possessing political connections could one get tin snips in Tallinn; in the stores, there was nothing, nothing at all: shelves were simply bare, apart from, say, a few dozen frozen chickens stuck to each other, without benefit of cellophane - there was one reason for burning jet fuel so prodigally. A nuclear power must not rely on the SS-20 missile alone, but must keep a part of its armament (that part, let us say, designated for the obliteration of nearby Stockholm) on humble jet aeroplanes. And those jet aeroplanes cannot stay parked in hangars and runways, awaiting the Americans.

The fall of communism. Dad, eternally the pessimist, had predicted that Mihhael S. Gorbachev would prove one of the bloody dictators of history. Dad died on 1991 May 1. Mum and I are in our bungalow in Nova Scotia. A cloudy August lunch-time, in the year of Dad's death. We sit in the kitchen, by the same table where Nana once asked about Cuba. The amplitude-modulated radio brings in CKCL at 600 kHz, 'the voice of Central Nova Scotia'. CKCL confines itself to the life of Colchester County. It is time for the farming programme, famously narrated by a Frank McDonald (MacDonald?), the signature tune 'Old McDonald had a Farm'. Russia, says the announcer, is having a busy day.

Later I walk out toward the marshes near the house, convinced that glasnost and perestroika, the Gorbachevian opening, are over. Brown, dead summer grasses. I know that Stalin is back, know that our four decades in Canada are empty. T.S. Eliot talks about the rock which in halcyon days is something to steer by and in the storms is what it always was.

Party careerist Arnold Rüütel takes advantage in that 1991 August of the Moscow putsch, declaring the full independence of Estonia. His gambling instincts prove sounder than those of Ottawa, where the Department of Foreign Affairs sullies itself by choosing a cautious form of words, prematurely admitting of the possibility of the putschists' succeeding.

A few days later, Estonia is admitted to the United Nations.

Our guerrillas were "Forest Brethren". We also had, and still have, a "Forest University", holding useful open-air classes in the diaspora. Nothing silly, just history and literature. Since Estonia does not share the catastrophic political ethos of the Middle East, we have never used the Forest University for physical training. It was through Australian Forest University friends that I got my Estonian Bible. I perpetually keep in this volume the 1957 ordination card of one of Estonia's few Catholic priests, Fr U.V.W., marking a sacrament administered to him on alien soil (Fr U.V.W. left Estonia in the world war, returning home after 1991): 'Teie palve hoolde usaldab Maarjamaa ja iseenese U.V.W. preestriks pühendatud rahvale kes jumalasalgajate ikke all'; 'To your prayers commends both Mary's Land and himself U.V.W., consecrated a priest to a nation under the yoke of those who deny God.'

Psalm 126, in the Lutheran numbering of that Bible, begins, 'Kui Jehoova tõi tagasi Siioni vangid, siis olime nagu unenägijad!' 'When Jehovah brought back the prisoners of Zion, we were like those who dream.'

Mee Wun: 'After I finish the 1980s, I do the 2080s ...' As she recalls first an anti-globalization human chain of the 2080s, then an environmentalist song festival, I see the part my own generation is to play, seeding the ground for what comes later, even as the Eastern European resistance of the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s prepared for the eventual flowering of 1989, 1990, 1991. Our tools are not, of course, the typewritten samizdat or the Voice of America in headphones. For the most part, our tools are not even literary, but more earthy, in the most literal way earthy. We prepare by buying organic tomatoes one day, organic rice another. Or by learning for ourselves the practicalities of planting, especially planting in the city.

Avivah: 'Tell Sir James about Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.'

As Mee Wun unfolds a tale of simple people buying the green electricity, opting for the organic produce, under a certain guidance from the "Little Way" of the Saint - able in the end, in some places, to weather the social storms unleashed by the collapsing power grids - a chill creeps over me. The evening heat is at just over thirty degrees Celsius.

1990s Toronto. Sainte Thérèse. A young man of excellent family. His uncle, or some such, is currently or was not too long ago a bishop, or some such, at no great distance from Toronto itself. When I say bishop or some such, you must understand me to mean definitely a cut above monsignor, no equivocation at all there.

This conversation is happening in a church basement at some not-too-hopelessly-silly Catholic support group, dedicated to meaningful discussions on ahem-ahem this and that.

The young man intimates that said excellent family contains a husband and wife - not the parents of the young man, as I recollect, but perhaps aunt and spouse, or second cousin and spouse, or something. The couple had, as was common in the twentieth century, lapsed from the Church. Sightseeing in Paris (so the young man explains to us), they made their way to the vicinity of Notre Dame. Funny little shop, I imagine on some obscure side street such as you might get near Île de la Cité or the rue Saint-Jacques. Funny little girl in funny little shop. Selling roses. The couple buy roses, and on impulse enter Notre Dame. That cathedral visit is the beginning of their return to the Catholic faith. Knowing at once that something in their joint life has changed, they turn from Notre Dame to the funny little girl in the funny little shop to thank her. No such girl of course, no such shop. They do try hard, inquiring persistently of the locals.

The story may be true, since the young man telling it to me is, I stress, of excellent family.

Sir James: 'Sainte Thérèse de Lisieux. How lovely.'

Mee Wun: 'She keeps them simple, and one day the darkness of their times grows lighter.'

All present now reach for the lentil stew, and Saint Thomas More and I do likewise. (I note with approbation that it is a low-energy entrée, a tofu cassoulet much in the spirit of the tofu-rice dish I myself have cooked with a five-minute spurt of Ontario Hydro microwaves and a retained-heat pot, as my celebrated Risotto Club-de-Rome.) Next, we reach for bread. (Toast: leathery, duly refrigerated, in strict compliance with the British culinary paradigm.) It is in the breaking of bread that I see how all is one.

In Town, as opposed to town. By the Julian calendar the morning of 1535 July 6. By the fumbling sundial chronometry of the Tudors, it was nine when the procession left the Tower. The axeman at the block.

My most heavily pencil-annotated book, I guess, apart from such altogether impossible tomes as Calculus on Manifolds, is Fifty Meditations on the Passion. By an 'Archbishop Goodier, S.J.' Author is thus one of the Shock Troops. Published 1925, this edition 1963. Nihil obstat, etc. From the shop of the Cistercian monastery outside Melbourne that I visited in 1982 upon preparing for reception into the Church, that is to say for Confirmation and First Communion. Page 43, Meditation XLIII 'The Opened Side'. Point one: 'Development of points scarcely needed.' Point three: 'Intra tua vulnera absconde me.' Reflection III under Meditation XLIII: 'Mary Looking On'. Point one of reflection, a quotation: '"Thy own soul."' Point two of reflection, a quotation: '"A sword shall pierce."' Point three of reflection, not a quotation: 'And so with all the Saints - all.'

Saint Thomas More died opposing Henry VIII. Henry, in earlier life pleased to be styled Fidei Defensor, helped set England on a mercantilist and ultimately capitalist path, in a chain of causes and effects not uncoloured by his break with Rome. It was that innovative, mercantilist, and (to apply our own contemporary, facile, grammatically negative, doubtless superficial, adjective) un-medieval way of doing things that became in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the American way. That same way consequently became, in my own terrified pair of centuries, the global way.

'In showing me this Kent, in which the barbarian night would seem to be ceding gently to the dimness of earliest morning,' I ask, 'in showing me this young and merrie Kent, dost Thou reveal things inevitable, inexorable?'