I have had a week of varying dress. At work I often wear a suit and did so this week. No tie. On Wednesday I irritated my left eye trying to take out a contact lense which had already dropped out, so onTthursday I had a day wearing glasses to give my eyes a rest. I say: it’s so you realise that I am an intellectual really. And it is remarkably true that people see you in a different light when you wear glasses. If I wear glasses I have to shave and have clean hair. I cannot combine glasses and scruffy. Maybe a few years ago it might have worked for me but not now.
It is astonishing the degree to which we block into simple concepts our view of people. If you are light-hearted in your manner you cannot be seen as organised in the work place; if you like football you can’t like Proust. I am constantly amazed how even the most sophisticated of people are unable to allow certain ingredients to mix. It is as though we are resorting to the idea of the Medieval humours; only a limited number of temperaments make up the range of human character. Everything pushes in that direction because that way computer programmes can bracket people for marketing purposes. This imogification of human types is an insidious development of modern life. Complexity of form; nuance; surprising compounds: all out the window. It is a standardization of human typology. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to be as paradoxical as possible. Confound those who think they understand you. Understand me? Over my dead body!
On the 360 bus the currency is dogs. They bring people together, all kinds of people: nationalities, languages, classes, ethnicities, generations. An old woman with a poodle makes friends with a young Polish couple with back packs. A cockney women sporting a whole parchment-worth of tattoos is talking with a posh Chelsea mother about their love of whip-its. The whip-it sits there, uninterested. It is a great leveller, the dog. Heartening, in a way.
I, however, who am indifferent to dogs, turn away. You see, I do not accept this currency. The single currency does not attract me. The dog, with its bark, its yap, its nervosity, its ready tongue, its wet snout, its constant business: these qulities I can do without. In fact, I’m a kind of Brexiter.
There are some words that, for whatever Freudian reason or other, I just can’t remember. One of them is ‘placebo’, though I’m making progress on this one. The other one, the major one, is the word ‘autism’. In the general way of things, I just can never find this word when I look for it. It is as though a mechanism has been constructed which snaps into action whenever I look for this word and I am trapped in a closed circuit. I should say that the word autism comes up quite a frequently in my professional life. The other day I tried to find the word and couldn’t, it was suggested to me and within twenty seconds I had forgotten it again, and twenty seconds later I forgot it again. This is pathological.
My friend Christina suggested I think of the word ‘auto’, as in automobile, as people obsessed with cars can suffer from being on this spectrum, and this would nudge me into remembering the word. Auto – Autism. Should work. And it mostly did. Except that now the word that is suddenly jumping up at me from auto is not autism, it is ‘autopsy’. I’m back trapped in the machine again.
On the bus with a six year old and an eight year old (my goddaughters) I make conversation. We pass a musical instrument shop. What have they got in there? I say, and Clara (six) says something about guitars, and then I say what’s that there? And Clara and Emilia look and search for the right word, but before they can say anything a man sitting next to me says “a trumpet”. Do people not realise that your conversation is strategic and aimed at particular people for particular reasons and spun in particular ways? The same thing happens when a journalist asks a question and a politician does not understand that it is feigned ignorance so that the politician will explain something to the viewing public. You see pompous politicians get angry with what they see as naive or ignorant questions like this.
But then, is not all our conversation strategic in this way? Are we ever working with pure matter? We are always coaxing material out of people: giving them a chance to show off; tactically nudging them in a certain direction; giving a speeded-up impression of who we are (when you are dating for example) because there is no time for the natural acquisition of understanding, you have an effect to make, which will ideally be an accelerated truth rather than a fabricated untruth. It occurs to me that this is something I perform badly. I do not manage to short-cut the truth about myself (the truth as I see it), am unable to package myself adequately. It should be a skill we all learn.
Anyway, it wasn’t a trumpet, it was a french horn.