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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April 13: embrace the randomness

I have a prejudice that, no matter how I try and shrug it off, adheres to me. It is my feeling that when someone ages prematurely this aging process derives from some kind of moral flaw. Nonsense of course. When people ask me how I’m looking so well (this has happened, I assure you) I say jokingly it is because of moral thoughts. Is this much more than the notion of spiritual or even worse inner peace having a hand in keeping you looking well on the outside. Probably not. These notions, like my notion, are pretty fascist. The truth is that life can ravage your packaging, dent your capsule, no matter how whole or harmonious you feel on the inside. Whips and scorns can break you no matter how many blueberries you eat. The constant refrain that we have the choice of this and that, that we make our own destiny (a deluded Capitalist lie) is not freedom at all because it flies in the face of everything we experience and see about us. Embracing the randomness is actually the greatest manifestation of your freedom.

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April 13: short cuts

There is this book ‘Sapiens’ going round, being perused by a range of self-important folk in the tube and elsewhere. Sapiens, as in homo sapiens, man. It is one of those total titles. It covers the world for you. I don’t know who wrote it. It is surely a Professor of Something with a Chair in something somewhere. We live in an era of short cuts to learning and wisdom. Of course, there are the self-help books that cover most of the ground floor of any bookshop now, but also there are these more learned volumes that claim to take us through from bottom to top of the enterprise that is us. Then the reader goes off knowing everything. Job done. They can get back on Instagram. Totalising is, of course, a valid enough enterprise. You cut through to the essential. The danger is that in any business of this nature there are generalisations, short cuts. The writer will mention Rousseau for one little reference to a movement in the 18th Century but will never have read him. It reminds me of a friend at university who was once telling me about Rabelais. He had read a chapter in a book on literary theory about the Russian critic Bakhtin’s book about Rabelais. so, having read no Rabelais (no 16th Century French literature at all, not even in English translation) and having read no Bakhtin at all, he was spewing out the opinion of a writer, who perhaps himself had never really read them. In the process, ideas are coarsened. A couple of little generalisations emerge. This is a phenomenon you get a lot of in contemporary art. You read the accompanying text to a piece of conceptual art and it cites Foucault, Deleuze, Derrida et al. You know this guy hasn’t read any of these people. Lots of short cuts. When everyone reads Sapiens and depends on their view of a whole range of thinkers on this digest, they are opening themselves up to all kinds of potential manipulation, intentional or unintentional.

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March 29: the search for a toilet

The search for a toilet is fraught with difficulty these days. I was in the cafe of the Royal Court theatre looking for one. There were two doors. One said Cubicles and one said Cubicles and Urinals. This is the new way forward. That way intermediate genders can find their true home. Earlier in the day when I had been looking for a toilet on the street at the other end of King’s Road. I stopped a policeman. He and his co-constable did not know of any public toilets around. Have they all been made into executive flats? I quipped. They responded with half smiles, feeling no doubt tainted by the ways the streets are going. The Bishop of London was also confused by the evolution of the common-or-garden toilet. On arriving to give a talk he was told that G and T’s were available downstairs before the talk. Being a bishop he hurried down for some dutch courage. G and T’s? he nervously asked the lone official figure in an empty basement. The official showed him across the floor to the Gender Neutral Toilets. But don’t worry. If you ask me for the nearest toilets on the street I will willingly help you out. Turn left. Go a hundred yeards along and off in the sidestreet there is a low-roofed building. You’ll see the word Gentlemen on one of the doors. Don’t be put off by that, I’ll say. Go straight in.

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March 19: the groat of all leaders

The papaya fruit is known as the queen of fruits. Why not? They are very nice and do no end of good to my digestive system. After a papaya my transit runs free. I remember years ago my Auntie Molly telling me without a hint of irony that James Michener was the king or was it the prince of novelists. I was a teenager. I nodded, as though to take at face value the objective truth of such an assertion. Is Paris the queen of cities? I think it probably is. In such a configuration Boris Johnson would be the knave or jack of all politicians or the Two of Spades of all diplomats; Theresa May would be the rook’s pawn of all communicators and Jeremy Corbyn the farthing or maybe the groat of all leaders of the Opposition.

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March 14: do I look like I want chocolate?

I was in the café in Peter Jones department store queueing for a coffee and I heard the woman in front of me ordering her cappuccino, extra strong, she insisted. But I mean really strong, she said. They agreed she would have two shots of coffee in her cappuccino. Then the woman behind the counter said, would you like chocolate on that? The customer, who was probably about sixty, a smallish woman with maybe some Lebanese or middle eastern heritage somewhere, said: do I look like I want chocolate on that? This was not said aggressively, more as though to start a playful conversation, but the woman who was serving her did not answer. The customer repeated her question, as though it was a good quip that had gone unnoticed. She said it again: do I look like I want chocolate? Again the serving woman chose not to respond. The customer went to a seat with her double shot coffee. I tried to understand the exchange. At first I thought the chocolate thing was because she was dark of skin and the serving woman did not want to be a drawn on such a contentious topic. Then, as I looked at the customer across the café, I thought that she wasn’t particularly dark. Maybe it was that her desire to have a double shot coffee was a macho signal and, following the same line, she had wanted to publicly poo-poo the idea of having a sprinkle of chocolate on the top of some frothy milk. I wrestled with the correct interpretation of the exchange for the ten minutes it took me to drink my black americano (pretty macho I reckon). Then I went down to use the toilets on the first floor.

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March 3: the proposal

Am I alone in viewing the proposal for marriage as a strange primitive left-over from earlier times? In the days of nth wave feminism and metoo culture surely the etiquettes of this ritual could do with a make-over. Even in the most forward thinking of couples the business of a bended leg and a prize ring, sometimes hidden in a chocolate cream or strawberry blancmange, the sacred formula of the proposal itself, the high-kitsch setting (some fairy castle or secret bower) persist. The stellar confusion reveals itself most when the groom decides to enact the ritual in front of a Super Bowl crowd and the bride considers this to be romantic, or respectful, or something.
If somebody will pay me I will accept to draw up a procedure more in line with modern society and contemporary gender roles. Spoiler alert: what I might come up with for the two parties is something resembling a conversation.

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