‘It’s a good thing for you to be a clergyman,’ he said at last. ‘People get ideas about a thing they call life. It sets them all wrong. I think it’s poets that are responsible chiefly. Shall I tell you about life?’
‘Yes, do,’ said Paul politely.
‘Well, it’s like the big wheel at Luna Park. Have you seen the big wheel?’
‘No, I’m afraid not.’
‘You pay five francs and go into a room with tiers of seats all round, and in the centre the floor is made of a great disc of polished wood that revolves quickly. At first you sit down and watch the others. They are all trying to sit in the wheel, and they keep getting flung off, and that makes them laugh, and you laugh too. It’s great fun.’
‘I don’t think that sounds very much like life,’ said Paul rather sadly.
‘Oh, but it is, though. You see, the nearer you can get to the hub of the wheel the slower it is moving and the easier it is to stay on. There’s generally someone in the centre who stands up and sometimes does a sort of dance. Often he’s paid by the management, though, or, at any rate, he’s allowed in free. Of course at the very centre there’s a point completely at rest, if one could only find it. I’m not sure I am not very near that point myself. Of course the professional men get in the way. Lots of people just enjoy scrambling on and being whisked off and scrambling on again. How they all shriek and giggle! Then there are others, like Margot, who sit as far out as they can and hold on for dear life and enjoy that. But the whole point about the wheel is that you needn’t get on it at all, if you don’t want to. People get hold of ideas about life, and that makes them think they’ve got to join in the game, even if they don’t enjoy it. It doesn’t suit every one.
‘People don’t see that when they say “life” they mean two different things. They can mean simply existence, with its physiological implications of growth and organic change. They can’t escape that—even by death, but because that’s inevitable they think the other idea of life is too—the scrambling and excitement and bumps and the effort to get to the middle. And when we do get to the middle, it’s just as if we never started. It’s so odd.
Evelyn Waugh, Decline and Fall, 1928