May 25: in the opticians

In the opticians when I was waiting for my eye test I overheard a woman, maybe sixty-five, talking to the man who was taking her information. He said what’s your name? She told him. I didn’t quite hear. Then she said: I have six names. I used to give out different names to all my different friends, but then I forgot which name I’d given to which friend and didn’t know who I was for who. Then I missed a bit of her conversation. When I got back to it she was saying: my face was completely destroyed. What you see is all reconstructed. And then the girl with the clipboard was coming over to me. I was sorry I’d missed bits in the story. I was brought into the booth for my tests. My eyesight is getting better in my left eye and I have very healthy eyes. This I can lay along next to the remarkable lungs I was once told I had by a generous doctor. I again failed one of the tests. This is the peripheral vision test. This is a test I always fail. It takes so long, about a minute, that I lose concentration and find my mind wandering. The same happened last time. They call the optician who comes and inspects my failure which is on a read-out receipt that comes out of the machine. She inspects it seriously while the trainee girl who had delivered the test looks seriously on. It is all very serious. I am not concerned. I know it is only because I stopped concentrating. I’m an old hand at eye-tests. When I get out of the opticians the woman with six identities and the reconstructed face has long gone.

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May 19: when i went to pick up my personality i found it had turned to dust

One of the most important requirements of a job for me is that, in the execution of the work, I am able to be myself, or at least not stray too far from myself. It is a shame and I suppose not irrelevant that the jobs that pay best tend to be those where you need to leave your personality, with your hat, at the front door of the office. And even within the same job some employees are able to open up a valve between their personality and the duties whilst others never quite find the knack. You see them, prisoners of their cheap suits, trapped in the cage of their functions, unable to turn that valve that would connect themselves with their activity.
Some employees have a plan. They think that they will spend a number of years working in a highly paid job where they accept to forego their personality, even their identity. But what they will do is they will acquire wealth and security and after a sufficient period of time they drop the job and are free to be themselves, to write their novel or assert their personality in whatever way they want without the pressures of the material world crowding in upon them. They make that pact with Mephistophiles. What sometimes happens is that after twenty-four years of leaving their personality at the front door, when they look to pick it up again, they find it has turned to dust.

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May 17: stop playing with those matches, nero

After a certain age it is very difficult to change habits. They have become ingrained. You see it when you try teaching people languages. They have been doing something wrong for years and they need to do violence to themselves to snap out of it. The business of trying to change the thought processes of the young, or at least challenge them, has an fascinating and mostly unsuccesful history. Alexander the Great was tutored by Aristotle with particular lessons on Homer’s Illiad, so much so that Alexander slept with a copy under his pillow. We don’t know if the lessons concerned warcraft or statecraft or whether his later life of frenzied invasion and conquering was influenced by the renowned philosopher-tutor. Dionysius of Syracuse, infamous for his tyrannical cruelty, had Plato as an advisor. But there again when you read Plato’s Republic he would have all the poets locked up, so perhaps the influence did work here. Seneca was tutor to Nero. This was probably not a wild success. If I’ve told you once I’ve told you a thousand times, Nero, stop playing with those matches. Montaigne had some mentorship of Henri IV of France. Here maybe a score to the tutors. Did Voltaire’s presence at the court of Frederick the Great help encourage the Enlightenment strains in the Prussian ruler? Or was it just window dressing? Because mostly, when push comes to shove, the man or boy in power will go their own merry way. The preservation of wealth and power is not always an ethical process and a blind eye and a blind ear are de rigeur for the apprentice ruler. The job of the teacher is to bring whiffs of the real world of the lives of others into the hermetically sealed universe of the rich and powerful. And today’s rich and powerful are closeted off from the experiences of the rest almost as much as Dionysius of Syracuse. Like so many other services, the cleaning or the laundry, the education of the privileged offspring is outsourced to the tutor, the ghost-writer, the secretary. The little masters of the universe are learning what they need to learn; that with a credit card you get others to do stuff.

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May 13: who says i can’t mingle?

I thought I’d better do some mingling. The other day in the cafe there was an elderly man with red trousers on. I thought: I could go up to that man with red trousers and say “Good morning sir. I see you have a pair of red trousers on. I contend that these days elderly men with red trousers vote Breexit. Am I right?” I reassessed. Then I thought, maybe not, it might be misconstrued.
Today in a cafe with some friends there was a reception going on in a side room. I was interested to see whether it was a wedding reception or not. I wanted to ask if it was. Fortunately, I had a four-year-old girl with me, so I forced her to come with me and said she wanted to know what the celebration was about. That was acceptable coming from a four-year-old. It was a wedding. We also asked who the bride was and who the groom was. We were curious. We were mingling.
I did some more mingling last Wednesday where I went to a reception for the opening of the temporary site for the new immigration museum. I went up to a red-headed young woman who was standing alone and said hallo. It turned out she was a Labour candidate for the upcoming general election. Then we had to talk about politics and Jeremy Corbyn whom she kept calling Jeremy. I called him Mr Corbyn back. Later in the evening as I was was mingling with other people I saw her craning her neck, looking longingly in my direction, probably realising a couple of hours after our mingle that I was the best mingler she’d met all night. My feeling is that politicians don’t make great minglers. I can’t say I’d look forward to a mingle with Teresa May either.

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May 7: on not recognizing people

Someone I was supposed to recognize was waiting for me at the reception area of my work place on Friday. He was, to all intents and purposes, a stranger beaming at me as I approached him down the corridor. Look who it is! said the Reception. The space for my recognition moment was made. Reception was grinning; the old acquaintance was beaming; what do I do? I don’t know this guy from Adam. It’s Johnnie! said Reception. Recognition was not going to dawn. I play for time. Ah! I say, my eyebrows going upwards as they have to in moments of feigned delight, what are you up to now? Johnnie is working in property development. You’re not an estate agent, are you? No, he isn’t. Excellent. More eyebrow delight. So who was in your class then? I ask. I had apparently taught him for six hours a week for two years. He reels off some names. I remember none of them. Ah yes, I say. How many years ago was that? Only four. My memory has just gone awol. I ferret around for more information. Sometimes an anecdote will put every thing in place. But no. I am doing a lot of nodding and smiling. Johnnie goes off to catch somebody else he might know. Was it obvious, I couldn’t remember him? I ask round. Reception says no. Okay. At least my lying competences remain intact. I go back to my habitual business of strolling blindly through life.

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May 5: falconers etc

I see that when you try to buy a book in a foreign language on Amazon you are buying from a section marked C programming languages, which I suppose is Computer programming. Can it be that Computer Programming gets a higher billing than all the languages put together because it sells more? It might, I suppose. I stopped being surprised by these things some time ago. It reminds me a little of a small note in a Court document at the beginning of the 17th Century. It was the Court of King James I of England and listed all the people present at the two or three day Court celebration. One of the lowest items on the list is falconers etc or falconers et al (I can’t quite remember which). The etc or the et al includes the King’s players, that is to say Shakespeare and his company. They are just glossed over, invisible they are so irrelevant, some collateral damage of the language, relegated to an abbreviation, a bit like those hundreds of non-English languages on Amazon.

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May 1: famous people I have taken against for no apparent reason

We take against some famous people for no apparent reason. In the same way, I suppose, as we like some famous people for no apparent reason. Desperate people like famous people a lot. They like a lot people they don’t know. It makes no sense. I, to give myself my due, do not do this. I am indifferent to celebrities and film stars. Pop stars have never done it for me. They are mostly pathological show-offs. I do not, then, have a positive reaction to such people. They are not objects of fantasy. However, there are famous people I can take against. David Tennant has never done anything against me. I am sure he is a decent enough actor and human being, but I cannot have him in my range of vision. What it might be with him is that he seems to behave in a way that I recognise (when he is being interviewed, not when he is acting, I mean) and so should really have a place in my quotidian life and not on the small screen. Steven Fry I don’t like because I feel for some strange Masonic reason that the media give him an easy ride. Even unattractive elements in his personality are presented as likeable traits. He can’t lose. It is the same with Kate Moss. Then there’s James Cordon. He is getting a pretty easy ride too. That’s the America factor. British people who do well in America are untouchable. This is because of our chip on the shoulder. Me not liking these people is all illogical. I just take against them. Being irritated by people for no apparent reason is just a way in which my personality gets to spread its wings.

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