April 15: on all the people i never became

I was on the tube this morning sitting next to a man with an extensive selection of ironmongery through his face: a pin through his eyebrow; a sliver of steel through his lip and a whole trove of metal about his ear, including one of those wide studs enlarging the ear lobe that are at the very apex of metallurgical fashion these days. He was with a woman with no ironwork at all; she was just wearing an anorak. The lobe-enlarging stud was perhaps first noted by Sir Walter Raleigh on his trip down the Orinocco in the Sixteenth century where he went to try and discover the lost kingdom of Eldorado. When he came slinking back empty-handed he was duly beheaded. Voltaire referenced Raleigh in ‘Candide’where he has his eponymous hero being boiled in a pot by cannibals he calls the ‘Oreillons’, the ear tribe. Anyway, seeing this twenty-first century descendant of the Oreillons  on the tube got me thinking about the many lives I could have led. There was a time back in the Eighties as a very young man when I toyed with the idea of having an ear-ring. It never happened. It also never happened that I became a dusy gent in brogues. When you are young, for some reason, you need to find a genre, you are just aching to leap into a barrel with a load of other similarly dressed people. There were many genres I managed to avoid until finally ending up with what was left: the intersection of many sets from a complex Venn diagram and the idea that the more this genre is undefinable the better it is. A complex shaded zone that makes me, I hope, into the ideal of all right-thinking individuals, a man without qualities.


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