March 25: two types of fastidiousness

There is public and private fastidiousness.

An example, I think, of my private fastidiousness is the way I arrange my objects in my jacket or coat pockets before I go out in the morning. I put my phone in my left-side pocket and my key and oyster card/debit card wallet in my right-hand pocket. I am right-handed, so I have easier access to the right side; I will need more immediate access to the travel card. I will not need immediate access to the keys (once I slam the front door) but they are necessarily away from the phone as they will clank and maybe scratch, which they cannot do with the little leather wallet, which is its necessary bed-fellow. When I have negotiated public transport I reverse the pockets, as the travel card will not be on-call during the day. This is all private fastidiousness.

An example, I think, of my lack of public fastidiousness is my unwillingness to go back and correct a text I have sent because of a spelling error or typo. Many people insist on this, as in Now Worries and then ten seconds later No as a correction. I would not bother with this unless there were true cause for confusion. If I sent See you at sex I suppose I might correct the sex to six,, but mostly I’d just let the typo hang. This may reflect badly on me if I have written here as hear or their as there and correspondants may have me down as an ignoramus, but this is one of the risks when you exhibit a non-fastidious devil-may-care life style.

March 22: speaking to people in a place where you shouldn’t speak

A man spoke to me at the gym today. He said, If that’s your water bottle, don’t leave it there. It was all right , I suppose. The If that’s your water bottle was polite enough, though the injunction don’t leave it there wasn’t. Anyway I said, It’s not my bottle. He didn’t seem to want the answer. He just walked off. At the gym, I have learnt, never speak. Once I made a shush gesture to a young man, putting my finger on my lips. He was throwing weights about with great noise. A few minutes later his mate came over and said have you been telling my bro to shut up? I said, it’s just a bit noisy. The mate said: no disrespect mate, but you’re not that young. I said, No disrespect taken. You’re right, I’m not that young. We were talking at cross purposes. He though I would be insulted, not being as young as him. Yes,communication is not the thing in a gym. Another time, a gym employee asked me, did you see who left this kit all over the place? I said I didn’t but it was typical, they must have their mummies picking up after them at home. The gym employee looked at me very puzzled. Was it a joke? Was it knowledge? Was it …? What was it? It was speaking to people in a place where you shouldn’t speak. I’ve been in that gym for about twelve years. Those are the only three times I remember speaking. Just don’t speak there.

March 21: the day I appeared in the Pink

Many years ago, when I was 12 or 13, I appeared in The Pink. The Pink was a Manchester newspaper that came out on Saturday evening, remarkably at about 6.30 pm. It was a full newspaper printed in the colour pink with all the football reports and results from the matches played at 3 pm that afternoon, as well as the horseracing and all the other sports played on the Saturday afternoon. It puts modern technology to shame, where often morning mewspapers cannot even get out the result and report on a match played the evening before. Anyway, imagine my shock when I discovered my own name printed there in the schools rubric as the winning goalscorer for my school team. How they thought it necessary to put a phonecall through or get a reporter at the match me and my mates were playing in Whalley Range that Saturday is beyond me. I remembered this random fact about me starring in The Pink the other day and it occured to me that life has been on a downhill slope all the way since then. It was a case of fame and acclaim when I had never even looked for it. It must have made me think that success came to you on a plate. Since that time things have not worked out with quite the same ease. Since then, it has been a relentless striving to hit the same heights, to no avail. Don’t worry, in recent years my striving has tailed off and I have become reconciled to my life of relative obscurity, and become quite content with it. No matter. I can still look back with a fond smile at the day I appeared in The Pink.

March 14: content drowning

I am looking for a term to describe the phenomenon where you may believe in or have an interest in a particular topic or subject but the weight of discourse surrounding it, the sheer mass of hype, means that you can no longer abide the actual topic anymore. It came up with my friend when the subject of David Bowie came up. She cannot abide him because of the sheer amoiunt of jabber surrounding him. I am the same with smoked salmon, I said. I don’t mind smoked salmon, you understand, but it is massively over-hyped. Sheer visceral irritation can make you renounce your usual positions. The issue of over-hype comes to my mind at the moment because of so-called Red Nose Day, a BBC initiative to raise money for children’s charities which entails, for example, the dressing-up of newsreaders as dancers and the outfitting of dancers as newsreaders. The rubbish surrounding it means that I don’t even have the time of day for the charity. It is a case of the form swamping the message. Although, fortunately, I did manage to evade the phenomenon in the case of Happy Valley, which had been massively trailed and praised and for once I managed to block my ears and just watch it. This exception apart, with information overload now predominant, the phenomenon which I shall call content drowning, will soon flood all output.

March 4: a driller or a gorilla?

I got to the funeral an hour early. I’d though 11. In fact. it was 12. So I went into a cafe to bide my time. The talk from one table was whether their kid had got into their preferred school. A mother came in with two children who bought smoothies. Wow! said the mum with hyperbolic glee, they look amazing! The kids were just drinking smoothies. The mother repeated that the smoothies were really incredible. She wasn’t drinking one, so you wonder how she knew. How they looked, I suppose. At another table a small child was being spoken to by an oldster, maybe a grandad. The grandad was deliberately bamboozeling the four year old with words. Is it a driller or a gorilla? he said. I read the child’s thoughts. A gorilla, obviously. What’s a driller meant to mean anyway? How do we speak to children! It’s no wonder they get all gender-neutral on us.

February 26: deciphering

Deciphering is what we do our entire lives. In disputes we try and see which version of reality we agree with; we test our own versions of events in our heads all day long and wonder how we have behaved or how we have been seen to have behaved. We set up versions of reality against each other using weights ; the judgement of a fifteen-year-old might elicit some scepticism as he or she might not have the authority that experience can lend or maybe the judgement of an older person is too tainted by dullness, consevatism or the protection of personal or material assets. At every moment we are assessing the value of another’s account, based on our understanding of their personality, their vanity, what they have to lose and what they have to gain.

I wonder whether the study of narrative helps us in these judgements. Cheap literature probably not, as the values of the characters are too clearly laid out for a simple read. Complex narratives more so perhaps. Here characters are not so clearly sign-posted. Sometimes the writer cannot understand him or her or does not think the character through to the end. You cannot think the characters through to the end because they are limitless, just like the real people in our non-fictional world. It seems unlikely that people who have more experience in the deciphering of fictional lives would be more perceptive in this non-fictional world. Or might they be more sensitive to the non-binary, nuanced and mysterious motivations behind behaviour. Intellectuals used to think that an understanding and appreciation of the high arts lent the connaisseur a moral quality. This opinion held sway till we realised there were army officers who tortured Jews by day and listened to Mozart after 6 pm. You wonder what the qualities were that they found in the Mozart.

January 21: my favourite barber

I went to the barbers the other week. This is a more complicated procedure than you might think. It is a barbers, not a hairdressers. You don’t fix appointments; you just turn up and one of the three barbers will see you. There is a problem because I have realised that I want my hair cut by only one of the three barbers but the culture is that you just take the next one available. This is sacrosanct; you cannot say no, I’ll wait till Dinos or whatever he is called is free..Such a request would make me ridiculous in the eyes of the clientele. So on a rainy Tuesday night I stood on the other side of the street peering surreptitiously through my barber’s window trying to work out when to be next in line for my favourite barber. The calculation proved beyond me, so I got the bus home. I came back again the next morbing at 9.15. The barbers is open from 9-6. My guess was that the hour from 9-10, less frequented by punters, would be just one barber. I know my barber lives in Fulham. I knew the other two barbers lived in Bromley. Bromley is further away. They would prefer to start late and they were both married. My favourite barber was not married. He would be the one to do the first hour alone. My calculations seemed to prove correct. At 9.15 he was cutting the hair of an elderly man. There was no-one else on the floor. It was a risk because the door to the backroom was slightly open. It could be that one of the other barbers would stride out the moment I set foot in the cutting floor and envelope me in the barber’s sheet. But my calculations proved correct. When I was leaving the barbers with my new and satisfactory haircut one of the Bromley barbers was coming in. Hiya, I chirped jovially. I think I’ve cracked the system.

January 14: an archetypal package

The other day I sent an umbrella to Hong Kong.. There is an umbrella repair man there who can fix it.. I wrapped it with a brown paperbag they had put my bread in at the cafe where I buy bread, but it wasn’t quite big enough so I had to use some shiny brown sellotape at the ends. My package looked like a stubby cardboard baguette. I was worried they might not accept it at the post office because it wasn’t properly wrapped, but they happily took my £12. That evening on the News I heard that packages abroad were being greatly delayed because of what they called a cyber-issue. To illustrate the news story they had some footage of a package in a tub. It was my umbrella pakage sitting there on the BBC Ten o’clock News, sitting forlornly though unmistakably in the square bucket in a post office which must have been my local post office. It was clearly my package with its brown paper and shiny brown tips. I should be pleased that it has undergone the transformation from inadequate package to archetypal package, but it still won’t be getting to its destination any time soon.

January 3: the perching chair

When I am choosing a cafe to have my black coffee in, I peer in at the window to see whether there are proper chairs or perching chairs. You know the perching chairs; they are tall chairs where your legs cannot reach the ground, they ressemble the stools that many so-called stand-up comedians or crooners sat on in the 1970s. They are the kind of seat you sit on if you have an island in your kitchen at home. They are now all the rage in trendy cafes too. Personally, I do not like the perching chair. I want stability in a chair and a proper back to rest my back against. They seem to be flattering to the customer by implying that he or she is not really settled there; they are on the go; too important to be in this single place really because they are sought after by many. It is an extension of the desire to have a coffee to go, to walk around with it thrust out in front of you like some contemporary domestic weapon, the desire to be somewhere else than you are, probably because where you are you are not getting enough adualtion.

January 2: disappearing into the shadows

Doctor Zhivago is a a mixed novel. Curiously amateurish at times (the frightened attempts to avoid any narration of dramatic events and the use of overhearing as a device like some 18th century picaresque novel) and engaging at others. It is Paternak’s only novel and shows. There is one deeply affecting moment when one of the two main characters, Lara, Zhivago’s major love interest in the text, is erased from the story. On page 447 of the novel in the translation we read:

“One day Larissa Fyodorovna left the house and did not come back again. Evidently she was arrested in the street in those days and died or vanished no one knew where, forgotten under some nameless number on subsequently lost lists in one of the countless general or women’s concentration camps in the north.”

It is as if at the end of the novel, after 447 pages of scrupulous attention to the character, the novelist loses interest. The character is permitted to disappear into the shadows of history.

These are always intriguing and mysterious moments in a novel where the character is left to his or her own devices and consequently ceases to be. The one other example of this that comes to mind is Alfred Doeblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz. Here, on page 731, after painstaking depiction of his trials and tribulations, Doeblin writes:

“Dem Biberkopf wird gleich nach diesem Prozess eine Stelle als Hilfsportier in einer mittleren Fabrik angeboten. Weiter ist hier von seinem Leben nichst zu berichten.”

(“Soon after this trial Biberkopf is offered a job as a porter in a middle-sized company. He accepts the job. No more about his life will be reported here.”)

Apparently, randomly, the storyteller just decides to stop the story and Biberkopf disappears from the pages of the novel, a little like Lara in the Pasternak. It reads as desolately bleak. These people, whom we have followed and lived with, cease to be. They are maybe living their life somewhere, suffering further in their particular cases, but we will know nothing more about them. It is terribly sad. The novel can no longer accomodate them.