When you are at a football match, or a rugby match, and you realise that you are being filmed by the camera that likes to register spectator reactions to the match, what you do is you wave at the camera. You keep one eye on the screen, which lies at an oblique angle to where you are facing the camera. It is quite an art to maintain your presence and watch yourself being present at two different angles at the same time. Grown-ups are suddenly, inexplicabley, transformed into toddlers waving at strangers from a bus as they are wheeled off to Alton Towers or Chester Zoo. Of course, the grown-ups are only waving because of the big screen and the promise of the even bigger screen of television where their mates might see them or they might see themselves later on Match of the Day. I wonder what I would do if I saw myself on the big screen at some match? I suppose I might wave to really confirm it’s me up there. But everyone waves, so it doesn’t confirm anything. By not waving, bucking the trend, I could confirm my identity more easily. I could just raise a knowing, quizzical eyebrow and the commentator might say something like ‘Wonder who he’s supporting?’ (I would not be sporting colours) or ‘Cheer up, sunshine!’. The cameras have now seen what happens when they film a wave-hungry spectator. Their dream shot has become the spectator who does not know he is being filmed. This has become their Eldorado: the unwary spectator, ideally involved in something heartwarming, some family scene or ardent manifestation of total fandom. The whole business has become a cat-and-mouse between cameraman and spectator. The second the waving starts, the camera switches away, earnestly seeking out some unsuspecting face in the crowd, or (God help us!) actually returning to the match because oops! while all this KatzundMaus was going on, United just scored.
You will recognise that when you see a representation of food (say, cheese on toast or a fried egg on toast or a slice of cake revealing the strata of delight beneath an iced topping) that representation of food is infinitely more alluring the more primitive it is. Some simple daubs of colour. A basic brown for chocolate; a thick white for the icing; a twist of the brush to render the melt of the cheese on the toast. This is all it takes to leave your mouth watering and hankering to go into that cafe, into that pub or bar and sample these archetypal foodstuffs. Sometimes you see a photographic representation of food, the dishes available in the hostellery, chicken biriani or lamb korma for example. You see them in all the intense action of their real presence detail, the colours lurid, the rice looking almost alive, like lice crawling beneath the grey-orange meat, which, in its turn, looks likes dollops of human organ. These representations are not attractive. They look too much like the real thing. We do not want to eat real thing. We want to eat the colours and shapes of our childhood imagination.
Maybe you can extrapolate this idea. We need to make our world as fable, make it fabulous, for it to please. If it is as dour in texture as a bowl of rice and spoonful of grey-sauced meat, why should it charm the senses? The process of simplification seduces the eye. We fall under the charm of pastel pink and Cadbury brown. If life were that simple and tastes were that sweet we would inhabit an Eden, wouldn’t we? But life is complicated, isn’t it? Sometimes we need war to keep greater peace. Sometimes we must be cruel only to be kind. We need to tell a lie to be good. We need to thimk complex to stay simple. That taste of the marshmallow of Eden will never be the same again.
I have been thinking a lot about Manchester recently (certainly on account of reading the Butor novel that uses Manchester as its model for Bleston), thinking of how my memory remembers it from when I was a schoolboy there. We know from Baudelaire that ‘la forme d’une ville change plus vite que le coeur d’un mortel’ (the shape of a town changes quicker than the heart of a mortal being), and Manchester has much changed since those days. Then it was a dark place. To drink after hours you went to the ‘Conti Club’, which despite its sophisticated name and promise of continental, existential conversation, was a grim little room with a bleak bar. The old abandoned Central station waited at the corner of my vision for most of my trips around the town interior and so often I seemed to be picking my way across sites strewn with bricks and broken glass which had remained wasteland since the war. The pubs were men’s places with pictures of naked women on the walls (‘Tommy Ducks’) or isolated places with a reputation for good bitter (Wilsons at The ‘Peverel on the Peak’). The Peverel still existed a couple of years back, still somehow on the margin of the city. Old Manchester was a rough, knockabout place. These days new nomenclature has sprung up for these old broken bits of city. There is the so-called ‘Northern Quarter’ where once there was a grid of rugged streets where you might come up against a gang of skinheads or football hooligani. Good, but not the town I knew. When people ask me where I am from I cannot say Manchester because it is not the same place. I do not know it. No place is ever the same. It is a place of the imagination as much as Bleston, scarred with long, fragile daddy-long-legged bus routes and recs.