There are certain times in our lives when we fall into step with those around us in a rather extraordinary way.
We may not notice at first. We may meet at work, at leisure, in the same street or on holiday: in fact, in any walk of life.
For a very short time our steps are out of sync and then, imperceptibly, we all appear to be walking with the same stride in the same direction.
There is a state, says Claremont psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, when one has complete focus, utter creativity. At these times the world goes away and true creativity is born. He calls it ‘flow’.
Imagine, then, when a group of people find themselves sharing such focus. When people are all bound up in the same great river current of creativity: then, you have Camelot.
It is a myth which embodies the longings of men: a group of hand-chosen, charismatic, outrageously beautiful, talented people who were destined to subdue an unruly country and create beauty and order out of a grotesque kind of chaos.
The name is that of Arthur’s castle, of course, while it was the people who inhabited it whose deeds have reverberated through English literature. Bedivere, Galahad, Gawain, Kay, Lancelot, Percival and Tristran: these are just a few of the characters so colourful they have painted our stories for centuries.
Each had their strengths and their weaknesses. Galahad is chaste and honourable, Kay Arthur’s constant and loyal companion. Polite and courteous Percival has a heart so genuine he discovers the whereabouts of the Holy Grail.
And Lancelot, friend, hero and champion: the most glorious and most flawed of Camelot’s inhabitants. He defended the queen’s honour for so many years, and then ended up in an affair which cuckolded Arthur himself.
Every Camelot is flawed. Every Camelot must have its wondrous, hope filled beginning, and every Camelot must work itself to a broken conclusion.
Arthur’s golden court is a template for something we meet, rarely, in life. How shall I name them? Jackie Kennedy recognised instantly her husband’s circle of knights, rudely ended with an assassin’s bullet.
I have often thought Apple began with a Camelot: inspired Arthur Steve Jobs and his knights Steve Wozniak and Armas Clifford “Mike” Markkula, Jr created something which is helping me write at this very moment; they conceived of ideas which others could only dream, and made them happen.
That Arthur fell in 1985, after a power struggle with the rest of the Round Table. But he came back to rule his Camelot again.
Hopping around linear time we come across the Bloomsbury Set, who set the literary world by storm; and the Beetles, who ruled the world, its music and its philosophies, for eight golden years before Arthur, Lancelot and their companions bade the world farewell on the roof of Abbey Road Studios.
We could go on.
Many of us have had Camelot times. They acquire a pearly lustre with time, though the end can often sear in the telling. Once I worked for an Arthur: a woman with boundless energy who collected knights around her. I suppose I might have been her Lancelot. But that, mercifully, is another story for another day.
Another time I can’t quite identify who the king was: Camelot was a haunted mansion and its knights trusty theatre managers, gallant sound technicians and steely box office staff.
We hosted great ballet companies, strange performance artists, raucous comedy clubs and humble but stalwart bridge clubs. We walked in pace with each other, jousting with unruly bar visitors and throngs of theatregoers, no challenge too great for our ingenious brand of teamwork.
But every Camelot is flawed. Mainly because these things tend to go in cycles: A golden beginning, a long, expansive spell of success; followed by man’s inevitable fall.
For in some way, is Camelot not Eden? Certainly, it marries with John Milton’s words on the fall from grace in Paradise Lost:
“…Under his great vice-regent reign abide
United as one individual soule
Forever happie: him who disobeys
Mee disobeys, breaks union, and that day
Cast out from God and blessed vision, falls
into utter darkness, deep ingulft, his place
Ordained without redemption, without end.”
Camelots are part of life. They are a heady joy when they are there, and the most long lasting and searing of regrets when they are past.
But somewhere at the end of each Camelot is hope. Just as the story of Eden has a loophole in man’s redemption, so Arthur sleeps ready to wake one day. We storytellers cannot bear goodbye to be goodbye, but only au revoir.
Perhaps a Camelot awaits you around the next corner.
Or perhaps it is here and now.