Robert Lautner (2017) The Draughtsman.

the draughtsman.jpg

This is simple fiction based on a first-person account of what if, running to almost 500 pages. In a way it fits in with other books I’ve been reading, with the idea of the self and better self, living the same life, but making different -moral- choices. Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty First Century was at it quoting reams of Balzac and the conundrum if you needed to torture a Chinese person on the other side of the world, to get what you wanted… Julian Glover was at it in the biography Man of Iron, Thomas Telford and the Building of Britain. Thomas Telford’s mum reckoned if you were an honest man you could look the devil in the eye. I’d laughed at that because I couldn’t and wouldn’t. I know my limitations. I’d skulk away.

But what if you were Ernest Beck, it’s April 1944, you’ve graduated from university, newly married to Etta, the honeymoon stage and your living together in a cramped room, short of money, reliant on handouts from your parents, looking for work as a draughtsman and someone offers you a dream job? ‘A contract. Real work.’

You’d take it, right? We all would. But what if your dream job is designing ovens for Buchenwald and the other death camps. Your remit is to make them more efficient. The body fats of the victims can be used as fuel rather than gas or the other less cost-efficient fossil fuels.

But what if you’d already moved into a new house, rent free, much bigger and better than you could afford. What you are doing is not illegal. In fact it is classified as so secret your boss, who runs the department under the auspices of the well know Topf’s industry, takes the file from you every night and locks it away. Topf industry benefits from contracts with the SS, but they do not run the camps. They do not herd inmates into the gas chambers. Topf industry simply fixes the machinery and suggests innovations. They have competitors and if they didn’t do it, their competitors would undercut them and step in and take the work away from them and they would lose the profit. Everything is done by the book, following the rules. German efficiency.

What if you’ve moved into your new house, outside your work, and sometimes you can work from home and your wife Etta tells she has false papers. She is a Jew. She is also a Communist sympathiser and knows other dedicated to the overthrow of existing social order.

What if your boss, Hans Klein, with the best suits, best car and a finger in every pie, tells you he put his own father in the camps because he hired Jewish workers on his farm. Your boss is as psychopathic as Donald J Trump. Would you work for him?

You know the war is coming to an end and your boss knows about you. He asks you to do a little favour for him and it ends badly. The thing your boss values most, the only thing he values, money, his money has been lost and it’s your fault, but you need his help. Do you run or do you stay?

What if you had to make a deal with the devil, what would it be?

Lautner takes us through these various scenarios. There’s echoes of  Stanley Miligram’s famous experiment. Most of us fold (65%) when dealing with authority. And the propaganda and hatred whipped up by, for example, George Osborne against the poorest in our unequal society, given the blame for making us in Britain poorer has modern day echoes. I’ve often asked why doctors worked for Atos, when, as skilled workers they could get jobs elsewhere. But, of course, it’s easy to blame others. Or in Osborne and the Nazi’s case the Other. That’s a double act as old as Old Nick. What about the compromises we make ourselves? Accepting packages and shopping with Amazon. Using Google. Eating processed meat and eggs that comes from animals bred, bled and killed in a cruel manner never seeing sunlight or grass. I wouldn’t look old Nick in the eye and I tend to look away from these things. We make sense of the world by telling ourselves lies. Don’t be fooled into thinking your any different is the message Lautner is peddling. I’m buying that one. And I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s a happy ending. It’s one of the few wars the Americans wore the white hats, good guys, who could look at themselves in the mirror.  Can you? asks Lautner

Tim Rhys-Evans: All in the Mind, BBC 1, 10.45pm. Director Mei Williams.

I must admit I hadn’t a scooby who Tim Rhys-Evans is. I find out here he’s the auteur of a male voice choir, Only Men Aloud, which won a competition called Last Choir Standing, which led to sell out concerts and record gigs and an MBE from the Queen. None of these things interest me. What interests me is Rhys-Evans’s admission that he’s got a mental health problem and tried to take his life. People that make lists are flagged up as in danger. Rhys-Evans made a list. People who write suicide notes are one step away from death. Rhys-Evans’s suicide note ran to fifteen pages. He’s still here and read it at the end of the programme. It’s a poignant moment. Rhys-Evans recalls as he was writing the suicide note something broke within him and he began wailing. There’s something biblical about this. A calling out of the self to the void.

I was supporting someone that was being assessed whether they were ‘fit for work’ as he had a depressive illness. Appointments were running two hours late because the assessors were on the sick and not enough of them had turned up for work. That’s irony for you. But we sat it out. We could see the different members of the latest professional group that has taken over from ATOS and most of them seemed to be female. I said to my mate, ‘you’ll get him’.  Older man, shirt and tie, shiny shoes, light-blue suit. ‘You’ll get Dr Gestapo,’ I said.

‘Aye,’ he said, ‘I probably will.’

That’s what happens when you’re depressed. You always think the worst. I hadn’t seen Rhys-Evans’s programme at this point. So I tried to cheer him up by saying just because your suicidal doesn’t mean you’re depressed. But he was having none of it. He was sure it was his fate that he was going to get Dr Gestapo.  I gave him a few examples of people that were suicidal but not depressed. I couldn’t mind the name of that group that killed themselves because they thought they were getting picked up by a spaceship, but I did mention Spock and the early Christians. Think positive, cheery thoughts. Ying and Yang.  Singing hymns and fling their weans at lions and shouting eat me first, but that ended up sounding like a Proclaimer’s track. I got him a drink of water. At least it was free. Dr Gestapo was waiting file in hand. He’d more chance with the lions, but what can you say? No wonder he was depressed. I was too.

Fate intervened in the case of Tim Rhys-Evans. His local mental health authority crisis-intervention team had him on the phone and they came to the door and rescued him. Tim Rhys-Evans had nothing but praise for their professionalism and caring. They literally saved his life.

Goldenhill Crisis Prevention Team, in my local authority, also run an out-of-hours service. But my advice is don’t bother wasting your time phoning them if you or any of your loved ones are having a mental-health breakdown. By the time an appointment is booked –three weeks on Tuesday- the crisis will have solved itself or the person will be dead. This is one of those public services that isn’t a service and isn’t open to the public. So I’m glad it worked out for Tim Rhys-Evans in Wales. It helps if you are a celebrity, of course. That makes me sound cynical. That’s depressing, but true. Even Tim Rhys-Evans with a tape of this programme in hand would still have no chance if he was being assessed by Dr Gestapo. Fit for the works.

Worth watching.