August 24: king of hedgehoggery

Bertrand Russel is known for separating people into hedgehogs and foxes. He is taking the idea from Archilochus, as he notes himself. The fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one big thing. So, Shakespeare would be a fox and Patrick Modiano a hedgehog. Some people thrive as hedgehogs; some as foxes. I’m a bit of a hedgehog in many ways. I try and specialise in a limited number of fields, working within a narrow band width. There are a lot of things I don’t do and won’t try. Somebody said why don’t I learn to ride a bike, something I have never done, and I say no I do other things. My band width is wide enough. I think maybe in conversation I am a fox. I can switch through from trivial to serious and feel comfortable in both, even happy to mix them so it’s not clear what my intention is. I don’t mind it being ambiguous. My brother is the king of hedgehoggery. His band width has become a narrow strip. He is more like a snake or a shark. His focus on what his preoccupations are has become such that, like the snake or the shark, he will eschew almost everything for high performance or at least high focus in just one or two things. In conversation he is an efficient killing machine. It’s a bleak road but someone has to tread it.

August 15: aesthetic choices in the workaday world

We were discussing which of the selection of shapes of Marks and Spencer’s crisps from their mixed packet we liked best. Both of us preferred the corrugated iron shapes. There is also a tubular shape, a little organic-looking shape and a kind of medieval wheel shape. In some similar bags of crisps (perhaps the one from Lidl) there is also a portcullis-shaped crisp, so we tend to refer to these shaped crisps as portcullis-shaped crisps. There is a category of person who, if I asked them which shape they preferred, would answer irritably, saying that they didn’t care. This category of person would view my differentiation-talk as nonsense out of a sense of themselves as being people who cut through triviality and/or had no time for meaningless nuance.

In the nice cafe we have found next to Seven Dials in Covent Garden we had a discussion about the coffee cups. I am looking to find a nice one or two for home with an attractive shape. This would equally get the goat of the above-mentioned category of people. They would no doubt prefer drinking from a mug. I conclude there are two types of people. Those for whom tiny aesthetic choices are unimportant and those whose day is cheered up by them. If you value aesthetic detail in your consumption of culture (football; good looks in people; the arts) why would you not value this in the workaday world that surrounds us at every moment of the day? Perhaps because you feel that here it impinges on your ideological values, though I don’t see why you can’t appreciate the variety of crunch in a corrugated iron shaped crisp and still retain your ruthless streak in the futures market. A training in nuance in whatever genre might hone your financial acumen.

August 1: a pickled hand

With the Olympics on the go we are hearing a lot of the national anthem. It is interminably droned out over the airwaves when Team GB or as I like to call it GB Team wins a Gold medal. On the telly they are still in the cast of mind that they must beam out live the medal ceremony along with the silly anthem, as if we are all still living in 1870’s Prussia. There will come a day (I’m hoping quite soon) when all this stops and the Daily Telegraph is replete with scandalised letters. It reminds me of the strange convention of the marriage proposal, something out of middle-age folklore where the man must formally ask the woman for her hand in marriage, rather than the two of them having a number of chats about the idea. If I were a woman and someone one day asked me for my hand in marriage I would have readily prepared a severed hand in formaldehyde preserved in a pickling jar which I would present to my aspirant spouse. In the same way all medal ceremonies should have medals presented by a man in frock coat and a huge handlebar moustache or at least some resplendent whiskers photographed with one of those old-fashioned cameras where you look down onto a plate in your apparatus and after much chemical manipulation produce a blurry melancholy black and white image of alien beings waiting to be blown to smithereens in the Great War.