This blog is about an encounter I had some years ago with a dragon on the morning train from Cambridge to London. It recently came to mind while reading The Wisdom of Psychopaths by Dr Kevin Dutton. A few years after this encounter the dragon would find himself at The Old Bailey accused of a some very serious crimes.
Like any other pre-pandemic Thursday I caught a morning train to my London practice. As I awaited the train with a coffee and a banana in one hand and my bag in the other, I noticed the dragon walk past me up to the next set of doors. I felt the urge to follow and then thought better of it, leave him be, he is entitled to privacy.
Once on board I sat down in an aisle seat facing the direction of travel and placed my now half-eaten banana and coffee on the small half-table under the window. As I looked out at the sky a well dressed man sat down by the window across from me. It was the dragon. We exchanged a polite smile, the sort of smile offered to acknowledge that we are discreetly sizing each other up to determine our suitability as travel companions.
The man looks just the same as he does on Dragon’s Den. Dragon’s Den is an entertainment show on television where would-be entrepreneurs pitch for investment to four successful business people (dragons) who then evaluate each proposal to decide whether to invest.
This man apparently had a reputation as the most ruthless dragon from the first series. I liked his directness and ability to cut through bullshit. He also reminded me a little of one of my favourite actors, John MalKovich. It only occurs to me now as I write this that John Malkovich is perhaps best known for playing psychopaths.
The dragon looks every bit the part; his suit, shirt and shoes all look expensive and tailor made. He immediately takes out a small laptop from his briefcase and places it on the table. What seems odd is that one half of it is taped-up with Sellotape. Some of which is discoloured, dried up and hanging off, it looks incongruous with his otherwise immaculate appearance.
Something else is a bit strange, his typing is loud and frenetic. His laptop actually moves across the table as he types. As it creeps toward the banana I feel a mix of excitement and indignation that he might nudge it off the table. Twice he pushes the banana toward the edge getting closer each time. At the last moment he pulls the laptop back before again continuing to harass my banana.
“Plonk,” the banana bounces off my foot and onto the floor, as I look over at him he smiles and matter-of-factly says, ‘Your banana has fallen on the floor.’ I’m flummoxed, he can clearly see that my hands are on my book, he knows I did not do it, and he surely knows that bananas do not throw themselves off of tables, so why not just admit to it?
I was bemused, why lie about something so insignificant, and why lie when it was so obviously a lie? Though technically he had not lied: he did not say it was me and he did not directly deny it was him. He appeared to pick his words carefully, like a twitcher observing an exotic bird I was lucky to witness first-hand the legendary cunning of a dragon. Now I was intrigued.
His light charm and easy smile did not reflect how I felt: I was disturbed. His manner suggested warmth and helpfulness and yet something inside me felt uneasy.
As with any spiritual experience I felt disturbed: the dragon had got inside me. Like a home invasion or psychic burglary he had left a psychic trace or imprint inside me. When burglars break in to steal they also leave something of themselves behind. Though this was not even close to the worst spiritual experience I have ever had, it seemed to resonate with something deeper, unknown, forgotten or perhaps repressed.
The expression, “Don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining” came to mind. As I began thinking how well this free association fit, a more personal recollection followed. I recall as a teenager my mother telling me that she once woke up to find my drunk (biological) father urinating into my cot as I slept. This thought is dizzying.
I think telling me was my mother’s way of pissing down my back, and the rain, according to her, was my father. I have always wondered why she told me, as I am now wondering why I am telling you the reader.
What I now realise is that regardless of her motive or intention, telling me was cruel. It is not clear who or what (if anything) her cruelty was aimed at, although inevitably there would be collateral.
Trying to establish motive and intention can at best only lead to consoling or unconsoling afterthought. Rather than tell myself something I want, or do not want to believe, it is better not getting caught up in belief at all. Belief creates distance and doubt.
Though it never tells us everything, sometimes the best explanation is the act itself.
Whatever else was going on with either parent what I do know is that they did what they did because they could, and I am writing this because I can. This knowledge contains no doubt and maintains curiosity and an open-mind.
Everything in each of our lives up until that point prepared us for these acts. Both parents were always the people that did what they did, and I would always become the person that wrote about it. Through our individual acts each of us, the dragon, my father, mother and I, in our own creative way were elaborating ourselves: we were becoming who we are.
All these associations and thoughts came later while writing about my encounter with the dragon. It seems the price we pay for free association is not free and it certainly isn’t cheap, although it is always potentially worth it. Though I have no wish to thank the dragon, I am grateful for our encounter: I became richer for it despite being burgled.
What is the great dragon which the spirit no longer wants to call lord and God? The great dragon is called ‘Thou shalt’. But the spirit of the lion says ‘I will!’Friedrich Nietzsche
‘Thou shalt’ lies in its path, sparkling with gold, a scale-covered beast, and on every scale glistens golden ‘Thou shalt’.
Only a lion can challenge the great dragon since it takes nothing less than a lion to destroy existing values. For written on the glistening scales of this thousand year old beast are the many moral and societal values and rules that are made to govern our lives.
The great dragon is more or less everywhere, has many faces and much of the time we do not realise the many ways it asserts its power over us. To live according to the great dragon is to live according to values that are not your own. It can take human form although more commonly it takes the guise of an idea, a morality, a meme, a religion, a philosophy, an education, an ideology or a tradition.
Although the dragon I had just met was not the great dragon it was evident that he also likes to dictate how things will be. To me he looked like a dragon and to him I suspect I did not look like a lion, he had apparently mistook me for someone who looks to others to determine their reality for them. However, when he knocked my banana onto the floor he inadvertently laid down a gauntlet.
There was nothing for it, I would have to do battle with the dragon. Folklore says dragons are formidable foes, they are powerful, cunning, seductive and rarely show mercy; it would take great courage and cunning to defeat him.
As I sat in silence on the train I wondered about how best to make my approach. It seemed any conversation now would amount to a tacit acceptance of his lie. I could not see how and so I left him to his laptop and lost myself to my daydreams. I was now trusting the unconscious to figure it out. Paradoxically the obstacle was also the key.
The situation called for something powerful, direct, unassuming and formidable. It would also help if I had the element of surprise. I know! I will state the obvious, he won’t expect the obvious, I’ll say, ‘Did you know you knocked my banana onto the floor?’ He won’t see me coming.
Ten minutes from King’s Cross he folded away his laptop and I found myself politely addressing the beast, ‘Excuse me, I’m curious about human behaviour, I have a question for you,’ this seemed to hook his curiosity and also appeal to his vanity. Folklore says dragons are vain creatures and that it is best to flatter them, albeit subtly since they are good at detecting trickery which they then turn to their advantage.
I had clearly got his attention, half-smiling he leant forward and said, ‘Yes.’
‘Did you know that you knocked my banana onto the floor?’ As I said this I felt a powerful rush come into my chest and noticed several things almost simultaneously. He looked at me differently as though he did not know who or what he was looking at, and for a moment he seemed lost for words. I then recognised a familiar and uncommon feeling in me, the warm melting sensation that comes from being seen.
I had reached him, we made contact, he had no defence against my vulnerability. I had shown him I care: I care about my banana, about me and about him. The courage to show vulnerability was perhaps the only way to pierce through his tough scales.
There was something else powerful about my question, it said, ‘I see you,’ and it enabled him to see me.
I could not tell, though I wondered if he, like me, had felt the relief of being seen, even if only for a brief moment and even if it had been uncomfortable. My vulnerability felt powerful, though I imagined his did not. I wondered what sense he would make of our contact.
He very quickly gathered himself together and said, ‘Uh, well, no I genuinely didn’t know, I’m sorry I thought you hadn’t noticed your…’
As he began saying this I realised that what he had actually said to me was, ‘We both know I’m lying and I am giving you no choice but to accept it,’ and I had responded saying, ‘I know you are lying,’ and, ‘I know you know I know.’
Once he finished his second denial his tone changed and he said, ‘I bet your friends are intimidated by you,’ though I could clearly see the impact I had had on him, I was nonetheless surprised by this remark.
‘What makes you think I have friends?’ My comment felt playful, I think it was partly an acknowledgement to myself that following his second denial, any further contact was unlikely.
I did not see the dragon again until I saw him reported on in the news as a defendant at The Old Bailey. Though I was initially shocked at the nature and circumstances of the allegations, what was even more shocking was that despite his own admissions he was found not guilty. On reflection this was not so surprising, he has power, wealth, influence and as I had experienced first hand, a commanding charm and ease when it comes to manipulating the truth, all of which (despite admitting to sexual relations with a thirteen year old) had surely contributed to the verdict.
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