I have bought a new raincoat and am looking for the right moment to wear it. It is a green rubberised mac (amazon green the brand calls it) which looks ridiculous if it is not raining. I wore it yesterday when I thougtt it was going to pour down. It didn’t. On Sunday it had poured down and I’d left it at home hanging forlornly on its hanger looking ruefully out at the sheets of water that were lashing the windows panes. When I wore it yesterday in the dry weather it gave rise to a litany of comments. ‘Goin’ fishing?’ was one wiseacre. ‘That’s really green’, was another, as though a euphemism for a crime against beige. ‘Where did you get that?’ someone asked. ‘In a big store,’ was my answer, keeping it intentionally vague. Actually and to my shame, I bought it in Harvey Nichols. I had only gone in there to see what kind of things were available and with the aim of going off to a cheaper shop or on-line. But then in a moment of unguarded what-the-hellism i just bought it.
Rain is always a source of confusion. Take umbrellas. I have a nice umbrella, but it’s too nice to take out because what happens mainly with umbrellas is they get left on buses or trains or in desolate waiting rooms. That is their primary function. The secondary, peripheral function is shielding you from the rain. When they interview umbreallas for the umbrella job most questions concern how they secrete themselves in the interstices between seats and the crannies of the intermediate zones of life (rooms you will never go back to; vehicles that can never be relocated). Of course, the upside to this is that one can acquiire a new umbrella at any moment, as though dropped from heaven. Why, only last week I found a vry handy little umbrella that folds up neatly and pings open on pressing a little green button. Amazon green.
When I am walking down Kennington Lane I have a choice of pavements: either I cross backwards and forwards at two sets of lights to avoid a wiggle in the road where I would have to cross to a traffic island and and then nip past unstopping traffic, or use my wits and do the wiggle over the traffic island. The first is a pre-structured itinerary; the second a negotiation. Depending on my mood and my energy, I might choose either option.
I have an on-going disagreement with a friend about walking through the passageways of busy tube stations. She maintains that you should stick to the right (or is it the left?) and follow the recommended track. Actually, she even thinks there is a correct line on a public pavement. For me, not just the pavement but also the tube passageways, are a spontaneous negotiation, and the spontaneous negotiation saves time for the collectivity.
Many of you will be familiar with the staple or paper-clip debate that has riven society in reecent weeks, setting friend against friend, son against father, a debate for which (although I say so myself) I take some credit (see March 8 2015 Stapels or Paper-clips) The staple is the pre-structured option, the paper-clip the negotiation. We believe that some societies prefer the pre-structured option (Germanics); others the negotiation (Latins). Negotiation may, of course, be just another word for a terrible row which might be pre-empted by the non-dialogue of the pre-structured option, and negotiation is often only useful when you have time to consider what you are negotiating about, which is not the case in a busy tube station and impossible with a ten tonne truck. It might be more relaxing to side-step tiring negotiation sometimes, though perhaps it is healthier for ourselves and society to engage in it.
I was privileged to receive an invitation to a private concert in a private house the other day. It wss musician I know a little who is first violin in a fairly well-known string quartet and they wanted to rehearse a couple of Beethoven string quartets in front of a few people in their living room before performing the full set of quartets in a series of concerts a week or so later. There was a tiny audience of five and it was a terrific event. What interested me, though, apart from the music, was the lead violinist’s apologetic introduction to the Beethoven opus 130 quartet which includes the demanding ‘grosse fuge’ movement. In advance she apologised for its uncompromising nature, as though it were somehow a slight on civilized company to perform such a beast. She sounded almost like the Germans at the time who had not understood the movement and bullied the ageing, now deaf Beethoven into writing a more polite alternative movemnet to bring the quartet to a more refined conclusion.
It is, I confess, difficult to know what to do with a high-brow preoccupation. Some people tone down the high-brow nature of their preoccupations; others tone them up. Toning down might be seen as a modest act. I remember one person I knew insisting he had never heard of the Spice Girls at the height of their fame, the implication being that he was too high-minded to even notice such manifestations of popular culture. This type of boorish behaviour is now, thankfully, more common in the older generations where popular culture was more readily sniffed at. Nowadays, the civilized man looks to extend his range from Bach to Beyonce. and this is mostly good. But there is no worth in denying the high-brow out of a sense of modesty. The high-brow often smells more of the beast than the low brow. Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge reeks of it.
I don’t know how this happened. I was sitting on the floor with my back propped against the wall in the Turner show exhibition at Tate Britain London. This is my habitual pose in art galeries. I had noticed a nice family going round the exhibition talking snaps of thenselves with the exhibits. They’d done a funny pose in front of a huge sculpture of a pair of buttocks. There was the husband (forties), his wife (forties), a friend (female, forties) and three girl children (ten, fourteen, sixteen). As I sat on the floor by the wall, I noticed one of the girls (the fourteen year old) looking over at me. I smiled back. Aftre a minute the girl came over and sat near me in the same pose. Then her sister sat on the other side of me. The mother took a picture of them with me. There were more selfies of them with me necessarily in the middle. I’m not an installation, you know, I said cheerily. Are you not part of the show? said the mother. Are you the artist? asked the mother’s friend, not joking. I said no. What do you do? asked the mother’s friend, intrigued by me for some reason. Give us a clue. I gave an easy clue and they guessed my main occupation. One of the girls said, Can I have a selfie with you, just me and you? I said why not? The mother’s friend said, guess what I do? I said, give me a clue. She said the word leather. Afte a moment I guessed. You’re a milkmaid. I was right. The mother’s friend was astounded by me. They were all astounded by me. I was the most remarkable piece of contemporary life thye’d seen all day, art or no art. The friend lived in Suffolk. She was an actual milk farmer. More selfies followed. I was a phenomenon. Then they asked me where they should have lunch. I said, just don’t have pizza. It starts tasting like cardboard after two mouthfuls. The girls said, that’s soooo true. And they said to their mum and dad, that’s soooo true. They said they’d go to Wagamama. On my advice.
A few minutes earlier when I’d arrived at Tate Britain I had been spontaneously embraced by the seven year old nephew of my friend Isabel, a boy I had never met. And then his seven year old class mate embraced me too. Maybe the Tate Britain gives me aura. A couple of hours later, as I was waiting at a bus stop in the rain, my umbrella sagged and refused to go up. I looked at my mobile. 7.23. The moment the spell was broken. My bus stop ws out of service. I walked down to South Kensington in the pouring rain with a faulty umbrella. My day as a celebrity was over.